Leveraging IPv6 Features to Deliver Secure Industrial IoT Solutions ▶


Ian Hallissy - TUS Athlone


IPv6 is the next generation Internet Protocol (IP) standard defined by Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and is intended to supplement and eventually replace IPv4, the protocol many Internet services still use today.

IPv6 is a crucial networking and interoperability piece for real Internet of Things (IOT), Cloud Computing, Big Data and 5G. The main and most obvious feature of IPv6 is extending the ip addresses from 32 bits to 128 bits. By using 128-bit address, the address pool is extended from 4.3 billion on ipv4 to 340 undecillion on IPV6.

IPV6 traffic accounts for 35% of global internet traffic. There has been a hesitancy to adopt the new protocol mainly because transitional technologies like Network Address translation (NAT) extended the use of IPV4 addresses and defer the issue of IPv4 address exhaustion. IPv6 is a complex protocol but is the only option available. Organisations can delay moving to protocol but ultimately will have to, as it is the only viable option. IPv6 accounts for over 35% of global internet traffic but USA and Germany are over 50% with India at over 60%. While IPv6 adoption in general internet Ireland is 25%, it is only 5% on HEAnet our National Research and Educational network (NREN).

The 2021 Cyber-attack on the Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) brought in to sharp focus the consequences of a ransomware attack on Enterprise networks and gained international exposure. However, a similar attack on one of the largest Manufacturing companies in the state equally showed the risk to the industrial sector. New innovative approaches are required. It is the globally unique feature of an IPV6 address that we wish to leverage in designing secure IoT solutions. Our belief is that the best way of promoting IPv6 adoption is by show casing its benefits.

Athlone started its IPv6 phased deployment journey in 2012 initially dual stacking its router/firewall/dns infrastructure. In early 2015, dual stacked WiFi network and by year-end had campus LAN dual stacked. This gave us the confidence in 2020 to deploy a unique IPv6 only WiFi6 wireless infrastructure with Management plane control and data plane IPv6 only.

The key takeaway from this project is that IPv6 only is do-able today and that the it provides a way to deploy simple scalable networks. The 64,000 square meter wireless coverage is delivered with a small number of Vlans  - and crucially a single Vlans for all client access traffic. My colleagues in Computer services are now working on integrating our Wired and Wireless networks into a single core on Aruba CX switching.

Athlone is recognised as a leader in the deployment of IPv6 technology and has the unique resource of an IPv6 only wireless network, which can be, utilised as a testbed for next generation connectivity solutions. The aim is to provide a range of unique test and verification services for the IPv6 protocol that are not currently available.

The School of Engineering in TUS Athlone is in a 3200 square metre building comprising of 1500 wired nodes and WIFI6 IPV6 only wireless network. The concept is to provide an IPv6 playground for AR VR Gaming – Raspberry Pi IoT and wireless sensor networks. A key objective is to deliver secure IPv6 solutions using Zero trust design and harnessing the Software features of Aruba Dynamic segmentation. This is policy-based enforcement of access to wired and wireless network resources.

Thread is an IPv6-based networking protocol designed for low power Internet of things devices for wireless mesh networks and is a key technology area of focus for the faculty of Engineering.

Athlone has three strategic research institutes in Materials research (MRI), Bioscience research (BRI) and Software research (SRI). Applied Polymer technologies (APT) is part of MRI, facilitates polymer equipment suppliers to display their world leading technology and provide research facilities for industry partners, and has started construction of a new €10 M facility. Together with the SRI focus on cloud 3D sensing and connected media, the aim is to focus on Industrial IOT and Industry 4.0 solutions in this new facility.

Digital twin technology is a virtual model designed to accurately reflect a physical object. This is one of the key technologies using AR and VR for representation of industrial automation. IPV6 will offer unique benefits in the research and testing of these solutions in relation to real time information and latency in manufacturing process optimisation.

This talk aims to put forward the TUS Athlone view that IPv6 can play a key role in designing future secure networks. This is a view promoted by the US federal government who have mandated that 80% of all federal networks are IPv6 only by 2025. A key component of their Zero Trust Network design philosophy being the benefit of a Global unique address and the removal of NAT and a return to the original Internet concept of endpoint to endpoint connectivity using native IPv6.