Firewall management, IPv6 and you
by Reuven Harrison - CTO, Tufin Technologies - Monday, 2 July 2012.
Created 30 years ago, IPv4 has a 32-bit addressing scheme and can support approximately 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. Well aware that IPv4 addresses would eventually run out, the IETF created IPv6 as an upgrade to IPv4. IPv6 features a 128-bit addressing scheme, supports a mind-numbing amount of devices and delivers much needed security and performance improvements.

While the IPv6 protocol has been around for along time, forklift upgrades to IPv6 were (rightly) seen as expensive and time consuming without much practical benefit. However, with the pool of IPv4 addresses completely exhausted, IPv6 is a trend whose time has come.

It is well known that most security incidents are caused by human error, either as the result of a programming error or through misconfiguration, so it comes as no surprise that research by Tufin Technologies revealed that misconfigurations are the greatest source of firewall-related risk and inefficiencies.

The lack of experience and training for those IT professionals dealing with IPv6, will only make mistakes more likely, and IPv6 address complexity will only exacerbate this because they are extremely difficult to read and do not lend themselves to memorization. Compare a typical 32-bit IPv4 addresses -192.0.2.31 with a 128 bit IPv6 address -2001:db8:31:1:20a:95ff:fef5:246e. Now do you get it?

Knowing that IPv6 migration will be a fact of life, here are some measures you can take to ensure migration efforts will not impede firewall management:

Understand what IPv6 means to your network, people, and vendor partners: Although many potential issues can be avoided by testing IPv6 conditions in a lab or by running pilots, as with any IT deployment, there are some scenarios that even th most savvy IT people would not have known to anticipate. The only way your team will learn what the issues are, is by experience. For example, network devices or firewalls could become overwhelmed and fail when used in an IPv6 environment, allowing data traffic to pass without full inspection or resulting in an outage, or not. Talk to your firewall and network infrastructure vendors to see where they are at with IPv6 and what sort of resources they can provide to aid with migration. If you outsource firewall management, get educated on what your MSSP or service provider is doing for IPv6.

Avoid having to manually type IPv6 addresses: Because writing IP addresses manually is a highly error-prone, endeavor, you should minimize this. If you have to write an address, do it once and whenever possible, assign a human readable name to it and use the name in all places (firewall rules, policies, ACLs etc.).In order to minimize the duplication of address definitions, you need consolidated management systems so that IPv6 addresses are stored on a central repository and can be sourced as needed – for example, host naming should be consolidated across firewalls and routers, even from different vendors. For those organizations running Next-Generation firewalls, incorporate your firewalls with Active Directory to avoid having to manually enter user addresses.

Things will go wrong. Be prepared: IPv6 increases complexity, which is already beyond manual control on most enterprise firewall policies. But if you plan ahead, when something does happen, you will be in a good position to troubleshoot. From a process and operations perspective, the simpler the better. Make sure changes are properly and clearly documented so that anyone can understand what the actual change was, why it was made, who made it and when.

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