LACNIC Project Detects Massive Presence of NAT Boxes in the Region

27/03/2018

In Latin America and the Caribbean there is widespread usage (94%) of Network Address Translation, a mechanism used by network operators to connect several computers to the Internet using the same IP address. This data was obtained from the first reports of LACNIC’s NATmeter project.

The innovative initiative developed by LACNIC’s technical department measures the presence of middleboxes between a user and the Internet. “The project is very interesting, especially at this time when we are experiencing a scarcity of IPv4 resources,” said Agustín Formoso, an engineer who previously worked at LACNIC and is one of the project’s promoters.

NATmeter seeks to identify precisely how many middleboxes are on the Internet for the IPv4 and IPv6 protocols. According to the first measurements made by LACNIC, the use of middleboxes reaches 94% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Part of the results were as expected: those showing 94% NAT coverage for IPv4 networks. However, we were surprised to see a (admittedly minimal) use of NAT for IPv6,” said Formoso.

These network address translators consist of middleboxes that change the IP address a user utilizes to connect to the Internet. The NATmeter measurement system developed by LACNIC identifies whether a user connects directly to the Internet or uses a NAT mechanism (middlebox). The data obtained and the reports that are generated can be accessed freely by all operators (https://natmeter.labs.lacnic.net/). A demo is available at https://natmeter.labs.lacnic.net/script/.

Alejandro Acosta, R&D coordinator at LACNIC and co-responsible for the project, noted that operators have resorted to using these boxes because of IPv4 address exhaustion and use this mechanism to economize on the use of IP addresses, as they allow many people to browse the Internet using the same IP address.

Acosta warned that NAT has negative consequences as it creates a single point of failure and decreases the speed of the network, increases the number of hops to each destination, and increases the likelihood that an application will fail (e.g. audio, video and VPNs).

In the case of IPv6, very low levels of NAT have been detected but evidence of the presence of middleboxes has been obtained. Nevertheless, Acosta observed that LACNIC is curious to know whether this type of NAT will increase as IPv6 deployment continues to grow in the region.

Formoso stressed the “positive feedback provided by the technical community” and predicted a rapid evolution of the project as regional experts contribute their data.

“Our goal is for NATmeter to provide reports, including graphics, while making the data available at least in json and csv (open data) formats,” concluded Acosta.

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