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Network World updates the latest COVID-19-related networking news

UPDATE 4-23: How enterprise networking is changing with a work-at-home workforce

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Senior Editor,

Network World |

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!

UPDATE 4.23

U.S. Cellular, using authority granted by the Federal Communications Commission, started boosting its mobile broadband capacity in parts of six states to meet increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The six states are Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, Maine and North Carolina, and FCC approved use of extra spectrum for 60 days.

The bandwidth in the AWS-3 band that was allotted is licensed to another entity, Advantage Spectrum. Ericsson has worked with U.S. Cellular to add additional capacity to more than 200 sites to help ensure connectivity for U.S. Cellular customers.

Other service providers reported that thanks to extra capacity designed into the internet backbone and other major networks, they have survived the impact COVID-19 has had on overall traffic.

“There was some anxiety as traffic began to ramp up at the start – we’ve seen a 35% increase in internet traffic – but ultimately the networks have handled it quite well,” said Andrew Dugan, chief technology officer at CenturyLink during a conference call.

It helped that the increased traffic generated by employees newly working from homes hits the networks during the day, not evenings, which is peak time for internet usage.

Enterprises and large network operators plan for capacity months ahead of when they need it so there was headroom there, Dugan said. People who build large IP networks are proactive and engineer the network for unexpected congestion. “We had some infrastructure segments that ran hot, but we are fiber-based so we quickly were able to add capacity, and we continue to address those situations – but a byproduct of that is more capacity as well,” he said.

During AT&T’s Q1 call with analysts this week, CEO Randall Stephenson took note of heavy volumes of traffic its network has been handling. “What we are seeing is the volumes of network usage moving out of urban and into suburban areas… and we are seeing heavy, heavy volume on the networks out of homes,” Stephenson said. That traffic is being generated by work-from-home employees, students doing online classwork and commerce, he said, and “it’s impressive to see how much activity is still going on by virtue of the connectivity that’s been facilitated into the homes.”

He said network providers take a lot of satisfaction in how well the networks are standing up given that volume of traffic has increased at the same time its source has shifted.

HighSpeedInternet.com took a look at how the speed of internet service across the country is fairing and found that nationwide the average is 59.5 Mbps.

The company also looked at data from three million speed-test results and calculated the average internet speed for every city in the US, then ranked them from fastest to slowest.

Some of the findings:

UPDATE 4.17

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:

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:

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.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

This Article was first published on itnews.com

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