Earlier this month, the IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6) was rolled out. It is what some have called "only the biggest change in the Internet since its inception."
The new Internet address protocol, according to an explanation from the New York Times, upgrades the IPv4 and its 3.2 billion IP addresses to a version with 3.4 x 1038 addresses.
Illustrating this point, the Times states if all these addresses were in M&Ms, it would be enough to completely fill the Great Lakes. Although this change shouldn't affect most people's day-to-day operations -- the benefit is it gives the Internet a much needed ability to grow -- some are saying it could let criminals slip through the virtual cracks.
CNET reports U.S. and Canadian agencies are worried this protocol will make it harder to trace those committing crimes online because public IP databases could be updated less frequently:
The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials have told industry representatives that IPv6 traceability is necessary to identify people suspected of crimes. The FBI has even suggested that a new law may be necessary if the private sector doesn't do enough voluntarily.
Investigations stemming from kidnappings, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the Mytob worm have involved tracing previous-generation IPv4 addresses back to an Internet provider's customer, the FBI says. The bureau says it needs the same level of traceability for IPv6, which got a boost in popularity last week thanks to World IPv6 Day.
"We're looking at a problem that's about to occur," John Curran, president of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), a nonprofit group that allocates blocks of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses in North America and the Caribbean, told CNET. "It occurs as service providers start to roll out V6."
The Verge explains that law enforcement often use IP addresses to target crimes such as sending spam and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Gizmodo explains the problem law enforcement agencies have with this protocol is that they "could have a tougher job tracing IP addresses through publicly available logs."
An FBI spokesperson said to CNET that today "complete registries of what IPv4 addresses are "owned" by an operator. Depending on how the IPv6 system is rolled out, that registry may or may not be sufficient for law enforcement to identify what device is accessing the Internet."
If this is the case, information needed can still be obtained but it is assumed investigations would be delayed as subpeonas and court orders would be needed identify who the agency needs to contact in order to pull together records.
CNET reports FBI supervisory special agent Bobby Flaim saying the agency is hoping Internet providers will come up with a "self-regulatory method" to take care of keeping up-to -date IPv6 addresses.
Learn more about the IPv6 launch in this video: