The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is establishing a testing program to assure that the U.S. government purchases new computers and networking products that work properly on the next-generation Internet traffic system while meeting standards for federal government use. Addressing the U.S. government standards profile known as USGv6, the testing program is heralded by a new publication, a preliminary set of tests and an upcoming meeting to discuss its management.
Every device that is connected to the Internet, from a supercomputer to a smart phone, has a unique numerical ID known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address. However, the number of computers and mobile devices with IP addresses is closing in on the nearly 5 billion address limit of the prevailing Internet Protocol, known as IP version 4 (IPv4). To meet the challenge, the computer industry is gradually moving to IP version 6 (IPv6), which is believed to have an inexhaustible address space. IPv6 can accommodate 2128, or more than 340 undecillion (a number followed by 36 zeros), sites. To imagine this, picture each known star in our universe with trillions of IP addresses.
The USGv6 profile also endeavors to "raise the bar" on the security capabilities of IPv6 devices connected to the Internet.
In its first step to prepare for the move to this new protocol, NIST in 2008 released a standards profile for U.S. government implementation of IPv6, which is now known as USGv6. The document, NIST Special Publication (NIST SP) 500-267, assists federal agencies in procuring USGv6 networking products.
NIST scientists, in concert with industry partners, have been developing testing procedures to assure that computers, routers and other equipment conform to, and are interoperable with, the IPv6 capabilities specified in the profile.
To help create the test infrastructure necessary to support broad USGv6 initiatives, NIST has taken three major steps: Publishing NIST SP 500-273, IPv6 Test Methods: General Description and Validation, a document describing the USGv6 Test Program procedures for validation and accreditation of test methods; developing a preliminary set of abstract test suites, and scheduling a meeting on May 27, 2009, to discuss program implementation issues.
"This testing regime is important," explains NIST computer scientist Stephen Nightingale, "to ensure that future USGv6 procurements are both sufficiently capable and interoperable."