You might have heard of IPv6 once or twice and wondered what it meant. Well it’s going to matter more now that the: IPv6 has been launched. Hailed as a milestone in the evolution of the internet, this was the day when big name Web sites like Google and Facebook, major Internet service providers and home equipment manufacturers (the people who make your Wi-Fi routers, for example) permanent enabled IPv6 on their products and services. So what is it, why should one care and will it make us more secure?
What is it?
When you type a web address into your browser, it actually translates to a string of numbers known as an IP address which is used to identify web sites on the internet. Unfortunately, the current system – IPv4, which was conceived to provide around 4.3 billion addresses – is now full thanks to the staggering popularity of the web and the huge and growing number of internet-connected devices in the world. To ensure the continued smooth running of the internet, IPv6 was invented to provide trillions of times more addresses than IPv4. The only problem is the two are not directly compatible. Users may have to upgrade their internet-connected devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets etc), and home networking equipment like routers, while ISPs need to upgrade their networks and web site operators need to transition their infrastructure.
What do I have to do?
The good news is that IPv4 and IPv6 will run side by side for a long time to come, so there is no danger of the internet suddenly not working if you’re still on the old protocol. Also making the transition easier is the fact that most current operating systems, including Linux, Windows Vista or above, and Apple Mac OS X or above, are IPv6-enabled by default. You may have more issues with your home networking equipment like your router, which will eventually need to be replaced with an IPv6 ready version.
ISPs need to upgrade their networks to IPv6 so that your IPv6-enabled equipment can connect via the internet to an IPv6 web site. However, many are trying to delay the inevitable by trying to extend the life span of the existing IPv4 address space. This can be done via a technique known as Large Scale Network Address Translation, which effectively allows a large number of IPv4 devices to share a single IP address. However, according to a new report, it could have repercussions on your quality of service. A group of engineers know as Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (Bitag) have warned that if ISPs use this technique, it could mean that a family using internet devices at the same time has trouble accessing certain apps such as Google Maps or iTunes. Sharing a single IP address could also expose them to greater risk, because a hacker would only have to hit the one address to infect all the devices connecting to it. It may be worth contacting your ISP to check on their IPv6 transition timetable and make sure your service won’t be affected in the meantime.
IPv6 will largely be an invisible upgrade for consumers, enabling a surge in the number of household devices – including fridges, TVs, stereos and even ovens – which can be manufactured to communicate intelligently with each other via the internet. But the most important thing to remember is that irrespective of what network protocol you’re using, the threats from hackers remain the same. IPv6 will not protect you from malware, spam, phishing, ID theft or any of the threats facing you today. So stay alert, keep your security software up-to-date, your OS and browser patched and don’t open any suspicious email attachments or click on dubious links in social networking sites.