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4. Promoting IPv6
An issue that ICANN, the Commerce Department and the entire U.S. government will face in 2009 is the ongoing transition to IPv6, an upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol.
IPv6 provides virtually unlimited address space, built-in security and simplified network management. Created by the Internet Engineering Task Force in 1998, IPv6 replaces IPv4, which supports 4.3 billion individually addressed devices on the network.
IPv4 address space is running out, and experts agree that the 27-year-old protocol will not support all the Internet-connected devices used
by the world's 6.5 billion people in the future. IPv6 provides so many IP addresses — 2 to the 128th power — that it is expected
to enable secure, mobile and embedded applications that are inconceivable today.
Federal agencies last June successfully met a requirement to upgrade all backbone networks to be capable of supporting IPv6 traffic.
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.