For many IT managers, internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), the next version of the internet protocol, may seem like a far-off concern. But the technology will make its way into corporate IT systems sooner than many people realise, forcing IT departments to confront potential security vulnerabilities inherent in the new protocol, a security consultant warned.

Companies need to prepare themselves for IPv6, even if they don't have plans to upgrade their networks, said Van Hauser, a security consultant and the founder of hacking group The Hacker's Choice.

"Most people think there's no IPv6 now, so where's the problem?" he said. "The thing is if you install any Unix operating system now it comes with IPv6 enabled." In addition, Microsoft's Vista operating system, set for release in the coming months, is expected to have support for IPv6 enabled, he said.

With support for IPv6 enabled in these operating systems, IT managers need to be prepared to address security issues in the new protocol. "It has the same vulnerabilites as IPv4. When you thought with IPv6 everything will change in regards to security this is not really the case," Hauser said.

Among the vulnerabilities that IPv6 and IPv4 share is the ability of a hacker to launch a man-in-the-middle attack, Hauser said. In this type of attack, a hacker is able to monitor or insert packets being sent back and forth between two parties, without either one realizing that the network link between them has been compromised by a third party.

To secure against vulnerabilities in IPv6, companies must use IP Security (IPSec) on their networks, Hauser said. "If you use IPSec, most of the problems go away," he said.

However, even then networks will not be completely secure. "It's not that easy. If you do encryption and authentication, it doesn't mean that security is okay," Hauser said. "It just narrows down the number of people who can do something."