IPv4 in a World of IoT

Over the last two decades, network, cloud, mobile and IoT technologies have rapidly reduced the number of available IP addresses as each new technology adds devices to the global internet.

Mike Hollander is Co-Founder and CEO of MOD Mission Critical.

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Minority Report,” Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi detective thriller set in a dystopian Washington, D.C., in 2054, you may remember a scene in which Chief of PreCrime-turned fugitive, John Anderton, ducks into a crowded shopping mall to escape the long arm of the law.

“John Anderton!” a personalized advertisement calls out as he passes by. “You can use a Guinness, right about now!” Entering a GAP, he sees and hears other simulated barkers clamoring for his attention, spurred by smart sensors.

Elements of this IoT-enabled advertising universe are no longer the stuff of science-fiction. Personalized advertising is a very real and growing technology. And where there is IoT, there is IPv4.

By 2020, 33 Billion Served

Gartner has predicted by the year 2020, the IoT could reach 26 billion devices. That is apart from the predicted 7.3 billion smartphones, mobile, and PC devices expected to be in use by that time. Meanwhile, a McKinsey report predicts business-to-business IoT applications will create even more value than pure consumer applications.

Most of the devices we use are connected to a network via Internet Protocol (IP), which requires an IP address. Internet Protocol version 4, or IPv4, describes what the numbers used by every device that connects to the internet must look like, for example, 193.168.0.254. Hence, every computer, laptop, tablet, smartphone and any IoT-enabled device that links to the internet — over 33 billion connections — has an IPv4 address. The primary purpose of an IP address is to allow these devices to interact with one another. The IP address of your personal computer is not visible to any other devices but is used to connect to a router, which then uses its own specific IP address to connect to the internet.

If you live alone and use a personal, password-protected wireless router to connect your desktop to the internet, your IP address is linked to just you. At other times, however, your IPv4 address is shared by many and is openly displayed, as it does when you stop for a caffè mocha at Starbucks, pull out your iPad from your briefcase and connect to the free Wi-Fi to check out Facebook. The same situation occurs when you work alongside colleagues on your laptop, connecting to the wireless internet in the conference room of most offices.

Over the last two decades, network, cloud, mobile and IoT technologies have rapidly reduced the number of available IP addresses as each new technology adds devices to the global internet. Moreover, because networks can span buildings, city blocks or even entire metro areas, as in the case of public Wi-Fi, it’s often a difficult process to determine the exact geolocation of an IP address. And that’s where trouble can arise.

We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Recently, more than 600 million IPv4 addresses were inadvertently mapped to the front yard of a residential location in Potwin, Kansas. To put that number into perspective, that’s the equivalent of the combined populations of Central and South America. Many of the users with whom these IPv4 addresses were associated were involved in nefarious or otherwise desperate activities. As a result, FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors and even an ambulance in response to a suicide call, began frequently showing up at the unknowing, and innocent, homeowner’s front door.

Currently, geolocation information is only available from two sources: MaxMind and HostIP.info. The location database provided by MaxMind is 98 percent accurate on a country level and 70 percent accurate on a city level within a 25-mile radius in the United States. Accuracy information is not available for HostIP.info, although its database is open for user input; hence it is continuously becoming more precise. Because the network geophysical location has been tested and utilized primarily for the U.S., it may not have the same accuracy when dealing with international networks.

Keeping Business From the Bottom of the Lake

In the instance described above, very often MaxMind could only obtain information linking an IPv4 address to the country. When that was the case, it chose the Potwin residence as its default location, a latitude and longitude that was in the center of the U.S. That unfortunate solution, combined with readily available, free programs that can mask IP addresses, and 600 million IPv4 addresses became associated with a front lawn.

It’s interesting to note that MaxMind recently shifted its default U.S. location to the center of a lake, west of Wichita.

Given the explosive growth anticipated in mobile and IoT-enabled business applications, it’s critical that enterprise and small-to-medium sized companies confirm their IPv4 addresses are correct, since all connected devices are dependent on a specific geolocation. This is especially significant given the increasing digitalization and globalization of business, particularly across the advertising, e-retail and security sectors, and the increased IPv4 network address requirements of these types of companies.

While IPv6 has been a hot topic for internet providers for the past five years, IPv4, the original address system, isn't changing anytime soon. And although addresses through ARIN are no longer available, there are plenty to be sourced in the grey market or previously-owned space.

The business goals of an IP address plan would provide IPv4 addresses to end nodes to enable them to communicate with other nodes across the organization, with internet or partner nodes, as well as enable end nodes to communicate via supported media. Additionally, an IP address plan would facilitate network and security management.

The alternative, to have no plan, risks putting the geophysical location of one’s IPv4 address, and one’s business, in the lake.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Penton.
Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.
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