IPv4 vs IPv6: What’s the Difference?

ipv4 vs ipv6

What is IPv4 and IPv6?

IP addresses allow computers and devices to communicate over the Internet. Without them, no one would know who is saying what and to whom. But there are two types of IP addresses, and the differences between IPv4 and IPv6 are significant. So keep reading to understand IPv4 and IPv6 and learn how to secure your computer.

IPv4 Address Definition

An IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) address consists of four sets of numbers, each in the range of 0 to 255, separated by dots. So, what is my IPv4 address? For example, the Facebook site has a URL address of facebook.com, but it’s IPv4 address would be 157.240.22.35. This is the current standard for IP addresses in the TCP/IP model, while IPv6 is a newer IP version on the rise.

IPv4 History

IPv4 was developed back in the early 1980s. In those days, to go to a website, you had to know its numeric IP address and enter it. Later came the Domain Name Service (DNS). Its job was to translate numbers into human-friendly names that we now see in URLs and use when navigating the web.

So when you type “facebook.com” into your browser’s URL field, the DNS converts that name back to a number (such as 157.240.22.35). This makes it much easier for us to navigate the Internet because remembering a website’s name is much easier than the numbers that make up its IP address.

Reasons to Switch to IPv6

In theory, IPv4 has a limit of 4.3 billion addresses, which was more than enough in 1980, when only the military had access to the Internet. But as the Internet grew and became global, we quickly ran out of addresses, especially in the current era of gadgets and IoT devices.

The IPv4 address shortage started back in the 1990s. While clever engineers found ways around the problem, a more permanent fix was soon needed. So, when IPv4 could no longer cover users’ needs, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) developed IPv6 to solve these address shortage problems forever.

Currently, IPv4 is still used on the Internet. Although in time, there will be a complete transition to IPv6. Because the change from old IPv4 equipment to new equipment is prohibitively expensive and disruptive, IPv6 is being introduced gradually as older IPv4 equipment is decommissioned.

What is IPv6?

IPv6 (The Internet Protocol version 6) was first introduced in the late 1990s as a replacement for IPv4. It uses 128-bit addresses with eight groups of four hexadecimal numbers, separated by a colon. Unlike IPv4, whose number of addresses is limited, IPv6 is a solution that no longer lacks the number of possible addresses. This allows every device on the Internet to have a unique IPv6 address. An example IPv6 address looks like this: 2002:0de5:0001:0043:0100:8c7e:0270:7284, but this long designation can be shortened. As well as increasing the number of IP addresses, IPv6 eliminated many disadvantages of IPv4, the main one being security.

What is IPv4 and IPV6?

In addition to many more IP addresses, the advent of IPv6 has brought more functionality. For example, IPv6 supports multicast addressing, allowing bandwidth-intensive packet streams (e.g., multimedia streams) to be sent simultaneously to multiple destinations, reducing network bandwidth. But is IPv6 better than IPv4? Let’s find out.

IPv6 contains a new feature, “auto-configuration.” It allows the device to generate an IPv6 address when turned on and connected to the network. The device starts searching for a router with IPv6. If one is found, the device can generate a local address and a globally routable address, providing access to an even wider Internet. In contrast, on IPv4 networks, adding devices often have to be done manually.

IPv6 allows devices to remain connected to multiple networks simultaneously. This is due to interoperability and configuration options that allow equipment to automatically assign multiple IP addresses to the same device. Next, we look at the differences between IPv4 and IPv6 regarding speed and security.

IPv4 vs. IPv6: Speed comparison

The Sucuri blog ran a series of tests in which they concluded that IPv4 and IPv6 provide the same speed when connected directly. Sometimes IPv4 even won the test. In theory, IPv6 should be slightly faster since cycles don’t have to be spent on NAT (network address translation). But IPv6 also has larger packets, which can sometimes slow it down. It’s worth noting that IPv4 networks are more mature and, therefore, highly optimized than IPv6. Thus, with time and tuning, IPv6 networks will become faster.

IPv4 vs. IPv6: Security comparison

IPv6 was created with more security in mind. IP Security (IPSec) is a series of IETF security protocols for security, authentication, and data integrity fully integrated into IPv6. The point is that IPSec can also be fully integrated into IPv4. However, it is up to the ISPs to implement, and not all companies do.

IPv4 Security

IPv4 has been updated significantly over the years, so there is little difference between IPv4 and IPv6 security. The same IPSec in IPv6 is now available for IPv4; Both network providers and end-users must accept and use it, so a properly configured IPv4 network can be just as secure as an IPv6 network.

IPv6 Security

Since IPv6 is designed for end-to-end encryption, in theory, widespread adoption of IPv6 would make it much more difficult for man-in-the-middle attacks. IPv6 also supports a more secure name resolution. The Secure Neighbor Discovery Protocol (SEND) adds a security extension to the Neighbor Discovery Protocol (NDP), which handles the detection of other network nodes on the local link. By default, NDP is not secure, so it may be susceptible to malicious tampering. SEND protects NDP using a cryptographic method independent of IPsec.

With its own IPSec, IPv6 provides two security headers that can be used individually or together: the authentication header (AH) and the encapsulation of useful security data (ESP). The authentication header provides data source authentication and protection against re-attacks, while the ESP provides connectionless integrity, data source authentication, protection against re-attacks, and limited traffic flow privacy and confidentiality through payload encryption. IPv4 can also have this protection if the network implements IPSec.

Some Benefits of IPv6

IPv6 allows you to bind a public signature key – half of an asymmetric encryption system and the other half – a private key – to an IPv6 address. The resulting address is cryptographically generated and allows the user to “prove legitimate ownership” of a particular IPv6 address and verify their identity. Unfortunately, due to the current limitation of 32-bit address space, it’s impossible to modify this functionality for IPv4.

The new protocol also provides end-to-end connectivity at the IP layer, eliminating the need for Network Address Translation (NAT), one of the workarounds designed to preserve IPv4 addresses. This transition will enable helpful new services. For example, peer-to-peer networks are easier to create and maintain. In addition, VoIP and quality of service (QoS) have become more reliable.

In addition, IPv6 makes it possible to belong to many networks at once, with a unique address in each network and the ability to connect multiple corporate networks without forwarding. Bottom line: is IPv6 better? Usually, but not always. If you’re asking yourself: “Should I use IPv6?” read on before you decide.

Why Don’t We Switch to IPv6 Permanently?

Everything will be in due time. Unfortunately, obsolete technologies are slowly dying out, and the transition to new technologies is not always as fast as their supporters would like. There will be a transition to IPv6, but it could take decades. Last year, the Internet community reported that there are 24 countries worldwide where IPv6 is about 15% of total IP traffic, and 49 countries have exceeded the 5% threshold. We can see that the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is prolonged.

How to Protect your IP address

Why would you want to do that? Showing your location exposes you to various security and privacy risks, for example:

  • Packet sniffing: Hackers can monitor your IP traffic using a technique known as analytics to find out sensitive information about you, such as online banking information.
  • Surveillance: Your ISP, spies, and even governments can monitor your web traffic.
  • Geo-blocking: Sites can see your approximate location. Based on this data, some content may not be available to you, and prices for some services (e.g., online shopping or ticketing) may vary significantly.

As we found out, sometimes we need to use protection. The most effective way to hide your IP and protect yourself from possible attacks is using a VPN. The principle of the VPN is full encryption of traffic (creates a kind of tunnel) and the replacement of your real IP address for another, which will change at each connection, so all data is transmitted in encrypted form.

By Stephanie Adlam

I write about how to make your Internet browsing comfortable and safe. The modern digital world is worth being a part of, and I want to show you how to do it properly.

View all of Stephanie Adlam's posts.

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