Interview with Hans Petter Holen, who took on the role of Managing Director of the RIPE NCC in May 2020, bringing with him over thirty years of experience working in the Internet industry.
What new challenges have you seen emerge since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how much society depends on the Internet. It has become an essential aspect of our way of life - most notably to enable remote working. While seen as a positive for many, the increase in people working from home creates a very different level of requirement in terms of quality of service, as home workers rely on the Internet to work, learn, communicate, and so much more.
Not only will we see a push to improve quality, but also to expand network coverage; many rural and remote areas struggle to maintain fast and reliable Internet access, while urban centers might not have fiber yet and suffer from poor mobile reception between blocks. Some may argue that 5G and fixed mobile products can solve this problem, but this remains to be seen as a viable solution to what is certainly one of the most significant challenges that has emerged as a result of the pandemic.
The challenge that presents the biggest risk is Internet security, which is severely underestimated. A work device is secured in its corporate environment with firewalls; now that this device is at home, it must be secured in an entirely different way without that corporate protection. A huge number of devices are being added to the network - not only laptops, but also thermostats, smart TVs, and so on. Cyber threat actors are very quick to spot trends and act, and the threat this presents to remote working is an enormous challenge to our cybersecurity if we do not pay it the attention it deserves.
The RIPE NCC announced the IPv4 run-out in November 2019. What impact has this had on the Internet?
One year on, several trends have developed since we officially ran out of IPv4 addresses. Now a scarce commodity, a secondary market for IPv4 addresses is thriving, allowing companies to purchase used addresses to satisfy demand. IPv4 transfers involve huge amounts of money, with addresses going for $25-30 each - a cost which adds up considerably over time.
Furthermore, although many businesses do look to purchase additional IPv4 addresses, others try to work with the addresses they already have, often through a technical workaround known as Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CGNAT). CGNAT enables a single IPv4 address to be used by multiple customers. But this is only a quick fix, as it brings its own complications to the network and comes with higher running costs, making it merely a short-term solution. If IPv4 is to remain the dominant protocol over the longer term, the Internet is going to become more expensive for businesses.
Do you expect IPv6 to take a foothold any time soon?
Although IPv6 uptake has been slow, growth in the last few years has been much more significant. This is partly due to financial reasons; it’s expensive for a large-scale mobile or cable provider to maintain the technology that allows address translation for IPv4 addresses, so being able to eliminate those boxes and let traffic flow untouched costs less money. This means that when providers look to upgrade, as they do every five to ten years, IPv6 becomes the most cost-effective option.
Another reason IPv6 adoption has increased in recent years is due to the fact that building IPv6 internal IT infrastructure in the data center is much easier to set up and manage, so content delivery is faster and much better quality, which appeals to businesses. While many big industry players have made the move to adopt IPv6, progress has been poor among average-sized businesses and even governments, with many not having taken any steps to make IPv6 a mandatory requirement for their services.
The increased IPv6 registrations by ISPs may indicate that they have learned from the IPv4 run-out - they could be thinking they’ll need a generous amount of addresses to avoid a similar situation. But this time there is such a supply of IPv6 that another run-out should not be an issue.
What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the Internet right now?
A huge challenge facing the Internet is the need to make the distinction between regulation of the Internet and regulation on the Internet. Governments want to regulate what is on the Internet to ensure it is being used positively and is stable and trustworthy. But they also want to make it crystal clear that other governments are unable to affect the stability of their country through its networks. The RIPE NCC’s diverse service region presents a challenge in negotiating the geopolitical landscape; however, we are here to bring governments and key Internet stakeholders together. We want to encourage dialogue and understanding - in the hope that we can fight these challenges together.
Additionally, from working for the last six years as the Chief Information Security Officer of a Software as a Service (SaaS) company, I can say that we hugely underestimate the importance of Internet security. The only way to improve security is to communicate and share learnings for the benefit of the Internet community as a whole. Fortunately, there has been a big shift in awareness over the last few years, which has been helped by businesses being brave enough to share when they have experienced data breaches. The media also have a role to play in this, as their focus must be on the perpetrators and not the victims of cyber attacks.
The RIPE NCC also has an important role here, as we have data in our registry which is a key source of information when attributing security attacks. Another important, perhaps central aspect, is the collaboration fostered by the RIPE community. In this forum, operators can talk and build a common understanding of how to mitigate and prevent cyber-attacks, which will be very important moving forward as the cyber threat space grows increasingly sophisticated. Although there are several challenges facing the Internet, I believe that many issues can be helped with an open and honest dialogue within the Internet community.
- Hans Petter Holen, Managing Director of the RIPE NCC.
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