Commerce chief faces 5 Internet emergencies

DNS security, ICANN relationship top Obama nominee Locke’s Internet policy agenda

The next challenge for the U.S. government is turning IPv6 on in production mode across its networks and developing new applications that can take advantage of IPv6's features, particularly enhanced security and mobility.

The Commerce Department has a role to play in the transition to IPv6 and in other U.S. government cybersecurity initiatives, experts say.

"We did a huge IPv6 study as part of the president's initiative to preserve cyberspace," Kneuer says. "We came to the conclusion that IPv6 has benefits both in terms of security and in creating an unlimited number of IP addresses. But these benefits of IPv6 are not free. The transition opens up potential security issues. Our conclusion was that the best way for the government to encourage and foster the spread of IPv6 was as the largest IT customer on the planet. By simply integrating IPv6 into the government's own processes and procurement plans, that would go a long way towards promoting IPv6."

Kneuer says Commerce should encourage U.S. industry to adopt best practices in cybersecurity by sharing its experiences with emerging technologies such as IPv6.

"The U.S. government is well positioned to provide a very sophisticated view of the threat environment, and the government can do a service to the broader population by publicizing its views to critical industries," Kneuer says. "We can collectively benefit by having a better institutionalized exchange of what the threats are and the best practices for dealing with them."

IPv6 has practical applications for ICANN and DNS operations, too. The transition to IPv6 will be discussed at ICANN's meeting next week, and it is also being considered by ICANN's special study group on stability issues along with DNSSEC and new gTLDs.

VeriSign, for example, already has upgraded its root, .com and .net servers to be able to handle IPv6 queries. "VeriSign's constellation is fully capable of handling IPv6 queries," company officials said in a statement this week.

5. Spectrum for First Responders

A final issue for the new Commerce Secretary and NTIA chief is setting aside wireless spectrum for first responders across government agencies.

"NTIA needs to make sure that government agencies have access to the spectrum they need to perform critical functions," Kneuer says. "NTIA needs to make sure that this is done efficiently and effectively so spectrum is available to all those who need it."

U.S. policies on spectrum management affect deployment of WiMax and other wireless broadband technologies.

NTIA issued a new federal strategic spectrum plan in March 2008.

Kneuer warns that the consequences of state and local government agencies not having enough radio frequency spectrum for emergency response and other applications could be dire.

"If spectrum processes break down, and federal first responders don't have coordinated access to enough spectrum to interoperate with state and local government agencies, that will affect a critical government mission," Kneuer says. "The new team at NTIA needs to think about how they're going to spend [billions] in broadband infrastructure grants…But they also need to make sure they are preserving enough of management bandwidth to deal with DNS and spectrum issues."

Locke's confirmation as Commerce Secretary is not guaranteed. Obama's first two picks for Commerce Secretary – Gov. Bill Richardson (D) from New Mexico and New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R) – both withdrew their nominations.

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