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Ministry of Defence hoarding £38.5m worth of unused IPv4 addresses

A Freedom of Information request by network control specialist Infoblox has revealed that the MoD is hoarding millions of pounds worth of unused IPv4 addresses, while the UK government remains woefully unprepared for IPv6

Eight out of 10 UK government departments are completely unprepared for IPv6, despite the supply of IPv4 addresses running close to exhaustion, according to responses to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by network control firm Infoblox.

The request, which received 12 responses out of 24 inquiries made to every ministerial department, revealed that only two ministerial departments – the Department of Health (DoH) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – are IPv6 ready. It also showed that the MoD is sitting on £38.5m worth of IPv4 addresses – based on the current going rate of around £7 per address.

Half of responding departments said they held no unused IPv4 addresses and only two, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Transport (DfT), said they were even considering adopting IPv6 in the next year.

Furthermore, despite not being IPv6 ready, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently sold off an undisclosed number of blocks of IPv4 addresses as part of a Government Digital Service-led programme designed to release unused IPv4 addresses for networks not yet ready to make the leap to IPv6 and to raise some cash on the side.

The shortage of IPv4 addresses arose because it was only ever possible to have 4.3 billion of them in existence, and the way in which they were classified and assigned meant that many addresses allocated were never even used, hence why the MoD and DWP have found themselves sitting on stockpiles that could be of value to others.

IPv6, in contrast, allows for an almost infinite number of IP addresses, and while introducing it involves a lot of legwork for network owners, not moving could result in significant operational costs for government departments.

Infoblox warned that the lack of preparedness in Westminster reflected a wider and potentially even more serious problem across UK enterprise, and warned that Britain could be “sleepwalking into an IP-ocalypse”.

“Organisations that haven’t prepared for IPv6 could soon find their customers and users experiencing functionality issues on their websites,” said Tom Coffeen, chief IPv6 evangelist at Infoblox.

“Internally, it may also pose problems to companies laying the foundations for cloud architecture and the internet of things, both of which will rely on IPv6 infrastructure.”

Statistics produced by the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) show that Britain is only 1.13% IPv6 capable, far lower than countries such as the US and Belgium (28.19% and 43.55% respectively). IPv6 user numbers also remain low in the UK, with only 0.57% of traffic to Google using IPv6 addresses according to Cisco’s 6lab.

However, this will change, and Coffeen pointed out that the current review of the use of IPv6 in the UK being conducted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) – which did not respond to the FoI request – showed that the government did understand that IPv4 exhaustion posed a risk.

Coffeen said the government was not moving quickly enough to ensure all online services are accessible to everybody in the UK, particularly as it commits to the further digitisation of citizen services.

“As more web traffic arrives over IPv6, it’s very likely the government will have users trying to access sites from an IPv6 client that could stop them experiencing a site’s full functionality, potentially reducing access to services for some users,” he said.

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