Administration gets behind IPv6, sets 2008 target

In light of recent studies that say the government is not moving aggressively enough toward adoption of Internet Protocol Version 6, the Office of Management and Budget is preparing a policy to guide agencies’ transition to the new standard.

Among other things, the guidance will set a deadline of June 2008 for all government agencies to transition their network backbones to IPv6.

“Setting this firm date is necessary to maintain focus on this important issue,” Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT, told the House Government Reform Committee last week.

She told GCN the memo was currently “up for interagency review right now,” but declined to say when the final document might be released. OMB will issue the policy after it receives feedback from agencies, she said.

The deadline is part of OMB’s plans for “an orderly and secure transition to IPv6,” Evans said. When network backbones are running the new protocols, applications and connecting networks will be brought up to date.

One reason agencies need to start planning now is that many are running IPv6-compatible equipment that could pose a security risk.

Keith Rhodes, chief technologist and director of the Government Accountability Office’s Center for Technology and Engineering, said hackers could exploit network vulnerabilities by encapsulating IPv6 packets in IPv4 shells. Such communications could be undetectable by current firewalls.

David Powner, GAO’s director of IT management issues, praised OMB’s initiative but said “more effective leadership is needed.”

The pending guidance will fall into five areas, Evans said.
  • Agencies will first have to get acquainted with IPv6 transition issues laid out in GAO and Commerce Department reports, as well as in a US-CERT advisory of IPv6 security concerns.

  • Each agency will assign someone to oversee the IPv6 transition.
  • Agencies will inventory existing IP-capable devices to help establish a baseline for beginning the transition. OMB expects reports in the first quarter of fiscal 2006.

  • Agencies will conduct an impact analysis to determine the fiscal and operational effects of IPv6. These reports, including cost and risk analyses, also will be due by Dec. 31.

  • OMB will direct the CIO Council to develop more detailed guidance by the end of the calendar year.

OMB will measure how agencies integrate IPv6 into their EAs. “Since there is a large embedded base of IPv4-compatible equipment and applications, transitioning to IPv6 will ... require large capital investments and labor resources,” Evans said.

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