Nokia: traffic surges are flattening but DDoS is on the up

Nokia has released its latest update on internet traffic during the coronavirus outbreak, and while networks seem to be standing up to the strain, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) traffic is on the up.

As with every aspect of our lives, for all the good that some do there will always be others who try to take advantage of the situation. At a time where telcos are being presented with new challenges, the dark corners of the web are still home to those looking to capitalise on the tiniest of opportunities for nefarious means.

“We noticed a steady increase in the overall volume of DDoS traffic – with amounts exceeding the pre-pandemic levels by 40%,” said Craig Labovitz, CTO of Nokia Deepfield. “This increase may be related to the significant rise in gaming-related DDoS attacks; we continue to investigate this issue – so more to come on this topic.”

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) traffic is a malicious traffic aimed at rendering websites or online services inoperable. In short, it is the blunt tool of cybercriminals, one of the oldest tricks in the book but still very popular because of its effectiveness. By flooding one or more web servers with a disproportionately high-level of internet traffic, the aim is to reduce performance or take the service down.

One example has recently been discovered by Bitdefender researchers and has been named Dark_Nexus.

This new IOT botnet disguises traffic as innocuous browser-generated traffic to actively target IOT devices. There have been as many as 40 updates to the code between December 2019 and March 2020. It was potentially designed by greek.Helios, a known botnet author who sells DDoS services and botnet code.

On a slightly brighter note, Nokia has also confirmed traffic growth across Europe is flattening, likely due to a combination of peak video consumption, reaching practical maximum levels and the streaming services placing limitations on downloads. Many fears have already been calmed, but it is always worth reiterating; COVID-19 is highly unlikely to break the internet. Not unless it learns to twerk.

Internet traffic has been as much as 45% higher during the week following the introduction of self-isolation measures across Europe, and up to 20% higher on the weekend. Upstream traffic is still on the increase, but it does appear there is ample headroom for the telco networks to deal with the increased traffic.

Europe asks Netflix to save networks by restricting HD streams

European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton has been on the phone to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to officially request the streaming service slow down downloads.

Under the hashtag #SwitchToStandard, Breton has asked Netflix to enforce a slow down on customers who might be tempted by HD standard content. With HD content requiring 4-5X more data than SD, the threat to networks is quite apparent as more of the population are forced to stay inside and binge watch any new recommendations.

The issue being faced by the telecommunications industry is the perfect storm for network congestion.

Firstly, video consumption places much more of a strain on networks than any other type of internet traffic. These applications are incredibly data intensive, and while Netflix only requires a consistent 5 Mbps connection to function properly, the consistent streaming over sustained periods of time by millions of customers starts to add up.

Over the first half of 2019, video accounted for 58% of the total downstream volume of traffic on the internet, according to network management firm Sandvine, with Netflix accounting for 15%. Another issue which home broadband networks might face is more people connecting devices to routers.

“People are watching a bit more YouTube than normal (because it is a great source of information from a wide variety of sources) to try and figure out what is actually going on and to learn about what they should be doing,” Cam Cullen, VP of Global Marketing at Sandvine said in a blog post.

“And unlike normal, where their usage is divided between mobile networks, work, or school networks, and random wifi hotspots, it is all centred on home networks.”

With more people working from home, more devices are going to be connected to the home broadband networks as opposed to mobile, public wifi or more powerful work networks. Video conferencing will become much more popular, people skiving will have something on the TV, while kids needs to be kept busy as well. With parents attempting to work, whacking an episode of Paw Patrol or Pepper Pig on Netflix might have to suffice.

Another element to consider is the rise of online gaming, both on consoles and mobile devices, which will also be running off home broadband networks. Telecom Italia has attributed a material proportion of the 70% surge of internet traffic on its networks to increased use of games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty.

Italy, France and Spain are all countries which have gone into full lockdown mode, while it seems it will only be a matter of time before the same happens in the UK. Without the pub, clubs, cinemas, theatres or gigs to distract consumers, more will turn to the endless treasure trove of harmless comedies and rabbit hole documentaries to fill time in the evenings.

BT has already said it builds networks to deal with peak time traffic, therefore it does not foresee a problem, but what could be about to be unleashed is a monstrous amount of internet traffic as children are no-longer distracted by education or adults by alcohol.

All of the telcos are furiously working to increase capacity on networks which are potentially under threat, though whether the work can be done quick enough to mitigate the rise in traffic remains to be seen. It might not seem like a significant change but considering the popularity and increased use of streaming services over the coming weeks and months, downgrading to SD might have an impact if everyone makes an effort.

AT&T follows Italian lead by temporarily unlocking data limits

AT&T has announced it will suspend download limits on its broadband products in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The restrictions on data usage, which accounts for both downloads and uploads, are dependent on the amount charged for customers. Those with a DSL service are limited to 150 GB per month, FWA customers are limited to 250 GB, and for those who have a service with maximum speeds between 768 Kbps to 300 Mbps, the data restriction is 1 TB per month.

These limitations will now be lifted as the telco reacts to the on-going global pandemic.

In response to the more significant impact COVID-19 is having on the US, more than 1,000 cases have been confirmed to date, a group of 17 Senators have written to the major telcos to suggest the same actions are taken across the industry.

“No one should be penalised or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local health public officials, or school leaders,” the letter, addressed to CEOs of the major telcos, states.

“While its likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.”

Comcast is another which has taken action against to assist low income families. New customers for the Internet Essentials Service, the $9.99 a month broadband product, will be able to sign-up with without a long-term contract, credit checks will be dropped as will shipping fees for routers.

These actions seem to be following the actions of the Italian telcos who have been lifting data restrictions for all mobile and broadband products for customers in the impacted areas. Italy is the worst affected country outside of China and Iran.

Interestingly enough, as more people are forced to self-isolate or work from home, the more strain communications infrastructure will come under.

In Italy, Telecom Italia has said it has seen internet traffic across its network of 70%, mostly thanks to the increased use of video and gaming applications. The telco has said Fortnite and Call of Duty are applications which have seen notable increases over the last few weeks as schools have been closed and children need to be entertained.

With more companies asking employees to work from home and the potential for more schools to be closed, home broadband networks might be strained in a way never seen before. These are elements of the network which have not been designed to deal with this intensity of data traffic; how this is managed will certainly be an interesting story to unfold over the coming weeks.