As the coronavirus spreads, public and private companies as well as government entities are requiring employees to work from home, putting unforeseen strain on all manner of networking technologies and causing bandwidth and security concerns. What follows is a round-up of news and traffic updates that Network World will update as needed to help keep up with the ever-changing situation. Check back frequently!
AT&T reported that Email traffic is down 25% as more people opt for phone and video calls. Video conferencing is on the rise with more than 470k Webex Meeting Calls on April 9, the highest during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also stated instant messaging, including text traffic from messaging apps and platforms, has slightly declined since the week prior, but overall is up nearly 60%.
For the second straight week, Verizon reported that data usage is basically flat or down slightly week-over-week — including gaming, streaming video, virtual private network (VPN) connections, web browsing and social media — indicating people have settled into their new routines.
Internet performance across the top 200 cities continued to improve through April 15, according to BroadbandNow. The company reported 91 (45.5%) cities have seen download speed decreases, down from 97 (48.5%) last week. 135 cities (67.5%) have experienced upload speed decreases, which is once again down from last week’s total of 139 (69%). Only two cities have experienced significant download speed decreases of greater than 40% out of range this week: Evansville, Indiana and Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Ookla reported that as of April 15 the U.S. has seen a very slight increase in mean download speed over mobile and fixed broadband when comparing the week of April 6 to the week prior. Specifically mean download speed over fixed broadband increased very slightly in King County, Washington during the week of April 6 while mobile download speed was relatively flat when compared with the week before. San Francisco County, California saw an increase in mean download speed over fixed broadband during the week of April 6, while mobile download speed remained flat. Westchester County, New York saw a decrease in mean download speed over fixed broadband when comparing the week of April 6 to the week before. Mobile download speed increased during the same period.
Verizon Wireless cell-network data indicates how well its customers in the U.S. are staying put during the coronavirus pandemic, with some regions of the country doing far better than others.
The carrier sees a general decline in the number of cell-site handoffs that take place when data sessions move from one tower to another as people move around.
According to the latest Verizon Network Report, handoffs have decreased by 35% nationally compared to a typical day before stay-at-home mandates and down 6% from what was reported last week.
Verizon said its New York metro and upstate markets showed the biggest declines at 51% and 61% respectively. Handoff declines for other Verizon markets:
- New England: 41%
- Northern and Southern California: 41%
- Mid-Atlantic/Greater Washington, D.C. metro area: 39%
- Georgia/Alabama: 18%
- The Carolinas/Tennessee: 16%
- Florida: 10%
- Gulf Coast: 9%
AT&T reports that its core network traffic — which includes our business, home broadband and wireless usage — was up 24% through April 7 compared to a similar day in February. Wireless voice minutes of use were up 23% compared to an average Tuesday (April 7) and consumer home voice calling minutes of use were up 33% from an average Tuesday. Wi-Fi calling minutes of use were up 80% from an average Tuesday, AT&T stated.
BroadbandNow reports that Internet performance in the U.S. is improving, with 97 cities (48.5%) recording download-speed degradations this week (down from 117, or 59% last week – through April 8). In addition 139 cities (69%) have reported upload speed disruptions, which is also down from last week’s 144, or 72%, according to BroadbandNow monitoring. Three cities are experiencing upload speed drops of greater than 40%, including Baltimore, Maryland, Los Angeles, California, and Flushing, New York. And four cities are still experiencing significant download speed drops: Lawrenceville, Georgia, Rochester, New York, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and new addition Evansville, Ind.
ICANN.Org said it has joined the COVID-19 Cyber Threat Coalition (CTC), a group with the mission to stop cybercriminals from attacking institutions and individuals by playing on fears about the coronavirus pandemic. The group includes domain name service (DNS) registries, registrars, security experts, law enforcement, and Internet engineers.
The CTC said its goal is to, “operate the largest professional-quality threat lab in the history of cybersecurity out of donated cloud infrastructure and with rapidly assembled teams of diverse, cross-geography, cross-industry threat researchers.”
The group talked about the impact of COVID-19-related attacks and stated that credential phishing (33%) and scams (30%) are the most common tactics respondents reported, but malicious documents (18%) are also a popular attack vector.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) – part of the Department of Homeland Security – warned of COVID-19 network-security issues with the most common including:
- Phishing, using the subject of coronavirus or COVID-19 as a lure
- Malware distribution, using coronavirus- or COVID-19- themed lures
- Registration of new domain names containing wording related to coronavirus or COVID-19
- Attacks against newly and often rapidly deployed remote-access and teleworking infrastructure
CISA on April 8 released new guidance on how remote government workers and potentially others should address network security. The “interim Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) 3.0 guidance to aid agencies in securing their network and cloud environments.” CISA wrote: “While this prior work has been invaluable in securing federal networks and information, the program must adapt to modern architectures and frameworks for government IT resource utilization. Accordingly, OMB’s [Office of Management and Budget] memorandum provides an enhanced approach for implementing the TIC initiative that provides agencies with increased flexibility to use modern security capabilities.”
The Cofense Phishing Defense Center (PDC) warned of a new phishing campaign that aims to harvest Cisco WebEx credentials via a security warning for the application, which Cisco’s own Secure Email Gateway fails to catch. The phishing operation comes as Cisco’s WebEx traffic is exploding. The company said its Cisco WebEx traffic grew 2.5 times in the Americas and four times in Europe. WebEx traffic from China is up 2,200%(6), with more than 73 million meetings in March and more than 324 million active attendees. That’s two times as much as it typically handle on a high-traffic day.
In an April 2nd call with the Federal Communications Commission chair, the nation’s largest telecom and broadband providers reported network usage during the COVID-19 pandemic had risen about 20-35% for fixed networks and 10-20% for cellular networks in recent weeks. In general, company representatives reported that their networks were holding up quite well, and they expected that resilience to continue. In their conversation with Chairman Ajit Pai, no providers expressed concern about their networks’ ability to hold up to increased and changing demand.
“Operators cited a general migration of traffic to suburban, exurban, and residential areas as more people work, learn, and access services from home during the pandemic. They said they would continue to monitor hotspots to be ready for any issues and proactively increase capacity in case peak traffic rises unexpectedly,” the FCC stated. The call included Altice USA, AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter, Cincinnati Bell, Consolidated Communications, Comcast, Cox, DISH, Frontier, Hughes, Mediacom, Northwest Fiber, Sprint, T-Mobile, TDS Telecom, TracFone, U.S. Cellular, Verizon, ViaSat, and Windstream.
Broadband Now reported on April 1 that more of America’s most populous cities saw decreases in median download speeds this week compared to the last. 117 cities (59%) have now shown signs of potential network strain, up from 88 cities (44%) in the previous week’s report. The company wrote that 117 (59%) of the top 200 cities it was tracking have experienced download-speed degradations over the past week compared to the first 10 weeks of 2020. Five cities have observed download speed dips greater than 40%. In addition, 144 (72%) cities have experienced degradation in upload speeds, with three seeing decreases greater than 40%.
Verizon reported that its Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions appear to have the most people in the nation staying at home, according to its Verizon Network Report. Online collaboration surge nearly 10X versus a typical day, and growth in other internet uses has started to stabilize.
Meanwhile, AT&T said its core network traffic – which includes business, home broadband and wireless usage – was up 18% through April 1 compared to the same day in March. In a blog AT&T also noted a 700% increase in connections to its secure, cloud-based SD-WAN Static Network Based (ANIRA) service in the past few weeks. ANIRA uses IPSec to authenticate and encrypt data packets over the broadband network.
As many business and consumer users deploy videoconference services one of the most popular – Zoom – has also attracted attackers. So much so that the FBI on April 1 issued a warning saying that as large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) to stay connected, reports of VTC hijacking, or “Zoom-bombing,” are emerging nationwide.
Malicious actors may target communication tools including VoIP phones, video conferencing equipment and cloud-based communications systems to overload services and take them offline or eavesdrop on conference calls. Cyber actors have also used VTC hijacking to disrupt conferences by inserting pornographic images, hate images or threatening language.
As a result, some companies have banned or limited the use of Zoom, reports say. Reuters for example wrote that Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX has banned its employees from using Zoom, citing “significant privacy and security concerns.” The FBI offered the following steps to help mitigate the problem:
- In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.
- Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
- Manage screensharing options. In Zoom, change screensharing to “Host Only.”
- Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications. In January 2020, Zoom updated their software. In their security update, the teleconference software provider added passwords by default for meetings and disabled the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.
AT&T said its core network traffic – which includes business, home broadband and wireless – was up 24% through March 30 compared to the same day last month. It broke down some mobility traffic patterns as well: voice calls: +33%, instant messaging: +63%, text messaging: +41%, email: -18%, web browsing: -5%, video: +4% (also accounts for over half of all mobility traffic). It also usage for conferencing: AT&T’s global audio-conferencing solution: +200%; audio, web and video conferencing tools: +400%; Large-scale webcast events: +200%.
AT&T said its investment in artificial intelligence technology is helping it keep up with demand. For example, the company said AI is helping remotely troubleshoot and diagnose problems with customer equipment, by identifying the cause or even proactively identifying a potential issue before it occurs. “We’ve expedited deployments of new AI capabilities in certain markets that will allow us to balance the traffic load within a sector and across sectors to help avoid overloading specific cells and improve the experience.”