10 December 2021 | 5 min read

Common Issues Concerning IPv6

The Internet Protocol version 6 was created to replace the exhausted version 4. However, that hasn't happened yet. What are the issues and challenges behind IPv6?

Man thinking about the issues of IPv6 adoption.

Technology is evolving every day, and the world is gradually shifting to IPv6 from IPv4 as the standard version of the IP address. However, that doesn’t mean that internet users and network admins can take the leap without encountering various issues. 

Unfortunately, IPv4 addresses have been exhausted. And because this version of the Internet Protocol (IP) carries the internet today, it is not surprising that many are already moving to the IPv6 address system. 

Does that mean we all have to give up on the two protocols and switch entirely to IPv6 from now on? This version of the IP was created with the purpose of replacing IPv4, but that hasn’t happened yet.

In this article, we explain why your company doesn’t necessarily have to migrate to IPv6 with your internet service provider (ISP). We also discuss the common issues surrounding IPv6 adoption that hinders migration. Before we get into all of that, let’s first explain exactly what an IPv6 address is. 

What is IPv6?

IP version 6, or IPv6 for short, is the second functional IP version; i.e., the latest version of an IP address. As such, it helps identify devices on the web, just as its counterpart, IPv4, does. 

Both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses locate devices on the web and allow them to communicate seamlessly. Thanks to the IP address system, the internet of today can function as well as it does, with traffic and connectivity as simple as regular communication. 

But what is the difference between the two?

Internet Protocol version 4 versus Internet Protocol version 6
IPv4 vs. IPv6

Most notably, the IPv6 address is larger. It has 128 bits compared to the 32-bit value of the IPv4 address. This makes the total address space of IPv6 much larger than that of IPv4. Here are examples of both versions:

  • IPv4 example – 123.45.67.89
  • IPv6 example – 2001:db8::ff00:42:8329

The size of the address space is the primary reason behind the development of IPv6. The size of the internet and the large amount of networks and computers connected to it is simply too big to support the IPv4 infrastructure.

To make this easier to understand, just consider the total range of both types of IP addresses:

  • IPv4 4.3 billion addresses
  • IPv6 340 undecillion addresses

The unimaginably large number of IPv6 addresses (undecillion is 1 followed by 36 zeros) seems to fix the main problem of IPv4. But does that mean we all need to migrate to IPv6 from IPv4? Let’s take a look if that’s the solution companies and their customers need.

Should we migrate from IPv4 to IPv6?

Both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses are pretty similar – they provide an address for network devices online and allow every computer to communicate with others on the web. 

However, when IPv4 came around in 1981, no one thought that its total range of 4.3 billion addresses wouldn’t be enough in the future. By the late 80s, it became obvious that this number wouldn’t suffice. As a result, the Internet Engineering Task Force introduced IPv6 in 1995

The new version of the protocol went live in June 2012 and became a standard in 2017. With its total range of 340 undecillion, IPv6 became the solution to IPv4 exhaustion. It also brought forth improvements in:

  • Efficiency
  • Security
  • Performance
Improvements introduced by IPv6 include efficiency, security and performance.
Improvements brought by IPv6

Despite all of that, IPv6 is not ready to be implemented by every network administrator and all the devices connected to the web. 

Most notably, migrating to IPv6 is a sizable investment for every company. What’s more, there are many incompatibility issues with IPv4 as your network administrator has likely configured your network to support IPv4 only. 

Due to this and several other reasons, the migration to IPv6 has been much slower than initially intended. Today, both versions can coexist, but IPv4 is still the primary version of the IP address. According to Google, only around 33% of Google users accessed the web using IPv6 in December 2021.

Why you should use IPv4

IPv4 still has a lot of benefits that make it a great option despite the advancements in the technology of IPv6:

  • Reliable security through data encryption
  • Routing is more efficient as the size of the routing table is smaller
  • Major devices accept the IPv4 protocol
IPv4 advantages that tip the scale compared to IPv6 advantages.
IPv4 advantages

Even with the lack of IPv4 on the internet, the benefits of IPv4 are still available thanks to processes like IPv4 leasing. This service enables businesses to lease IPv4 with ease and without spending large amounts of money upfront. Simultaneously, it greatly alleviates the global exhaustion of the IPv4 address space. 

IPv6 issues and challenges

We’ve already mentioned that migrating to IPv6 can make you experience problems that often make sticking with IPv4 services the preferred option. In the following few sections, we explain the main obstacles and challenges, starting with security issues, as they are the most prominent.

Security issues

Despite the many connection and performance improvements that IPv6 offers, it’s still quite vulnerable. The main security issues in IPv6 revolve around:

  • Dual-stacking 
  • Header manipulation 
  • Flooding 
  • Mobility 

Dual-stacking

Dual-stack problems are not inherent to IPv6 but to the relationship between IPv4 and IPv6. In essence, the two infrastructures have their own specific security problems, which are only emphasized in dual stacks. 

Header manipulation

Some attacks are based on header manipulation, and they can often be solved using IP Security or IPSec and extension headers. However, this is not always a solution as specific nodes like firewalls can still be overwhelmed. 

Flooding

Due to the size of the IPv6 address, scanning the entire segment is much tougher and takes longer than scanning IPv4. Due to this, smurf-type attacks can be a problem, which is why it’s advisable to filter out unnecessary traffic. 

Mobility

Mobility is a new and complex function that wasn’t available before IPv6 was introduced. The process uses two types of addresses, the real and the mobile one, providing more seamless connections. 

The technology is helpful, but it’s also exposed to issues like spoofing attacks. Therefore, network administrators need to implement special security measures to resolve them before they appear. 

Network adaptation

Even though IPv6 is considered the future, many ISPs – especially the smaller ones – don’t yet offer IPv6 services or the monitoring to support this version of the IP.

If your ISP doesn’t support IPv6 addressing services, you may have to search for an ISP that could get you a second line for IPv6 communication, which can be very expensive. Alternatively, you can get a virtual ISP, or you can use a 6to4 router – equipment that helps the two IPs communicate.

DNS issues

DNS data is the most basic information needed for network connection, but this can be a challenge with IPv6. That’s mainly because configuring a DNS server in an IPv6 network can be pretty complex. 

This is likely to remain an issue until we all reach a consensus on the best way to convey DNS information. 

High cost

Migrating to IPv6 includes various costs that are not strictly monetary – they also involve such resources as time and personnel needed to achieve complete migration. 

Full migration requires a lot of people taking a lot of time to ensure everything is working in the end. Moreover, you may have to invest in new hardware, like routers or new servers. 

IPv6 issues shown as hurdles preventing IPv6 adoption.
IPv6 adoption issues

Conclusion

All in all, even though IPv6 is the future of the internet, ISPs are not yet ready to delegate resources, implement new equipment and support the infrastructure in every case. 

Ultimately, with the issues that still exist, most of which we’ve covered in this article, it’s clear that we’ll need to use both IPv4 and IPv6 for the time to come. 

The future of IPv6 migration is uncertain, and the costs are high, so it’s good that not all companies need to migrate right away. Fortunately, with solutions like IPv4 leasing, your business has plenty of time to figure out migration to IPv6.