Monday, August 29, 2011

IPv6: Some Chinese Surf Freely, for Now

Via VOA News (August 22, 2011) -

A new web technology being championed by China is allowing a short-term gap in its so-called “Great Firewall,” which blocks Chinese Internet users from sites blacklisted by the government in Beijing. Experts say how the gap is closed could have ramifications for the entire world.


To answer the [IPv4] shortage, China has been a leader in rolling out IPv6. But it’s only available to a small slice of the population, mainly in the big cities and around large universities. At least some of these users seem to be able to surf without blocking or filtering.

“We have been testing IPv6 connectivity to China for the past year, and so far, it seems like the Chinese government is not paying attention to it at all,” said Andrew Lewman, the executive director of the TOR Project, an open network that helps people protect their identity online.


Lewman said the number of people using IPv6 is probably in the “tens of thousands,” but he expects China to start paying attention as soon as those numbers reach a critical mass.

Another reason there’s no IPv6 firewall is the hardware is not plentiful.

“There are just not enough vendors selling the equipment to use on an IPv6 Great Firewall,” Lewman said. “Basically [the Chinese government] just has to say to vendors that there are billions of dollars to be made here.”

Once this happens, things could get very interesting.


Hal Roberts, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and an expert on Internet filtering circumvention and Internet surveillance, said IPv6 could present a double-edged sword.

On one hand, the creation of a nearly infinite number of new IP addresses could be a boon to anonymity, which largely relies on the ability of an anonymous surfer to quickly change IP addresses on the fly to avoid detection.

On the other hand, Roberts said there’s a movement, pushed largely by U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Recording Industry Association of America to build a strong association between hardware and IP addresses.

In other words, since there would be so many IPv6 addresses, it would be possible to hardwire every computer, cell phone or any other type of hardware that connects to the Internet with an IP address, making anonymity virtually impossible.

“That’s a debate that’s still happening,” said Roberts. “We don’t know which way that will go.”

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