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.

BEREC says COVID-19 won’t break the internet

BEREC has released a statement which suggests the increase in internet usage across the continent is more or less stabilising, though networks did manage to stand up to the strain.

It might seem like a ridiculous idea now, but during the first few days there were worries the dramatic shift in behaviour would place dangerous levels of pressure on the fixed and mobile networks. The latest statement from the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) does not appear to be worried any more:

“30 national regulatory authorities (NRAs) have shared their data on the impact of the crisis on the telecommunications’ networks and the actions taken so far. Since the last week, many NRAs reported a stabilisation in the overall traffic, but some NRAs still observe an increase of the overall traffic.

“According to the available information, some operators have increased their network’s capacity to cope with the sustained traffic growth. Operators, which did not take any such measure, are still closely monitoring their network’s capacity to check if an upgrade is necessary.”

There are still surges in traffic, though on the evidence available thus far, networks are able to stand up to the pressure.

In Italy, Vodafone suggested traffic on its fixed network has increased 50% while Telecom Italia blamed a 70% surge on more people playing Fortnight and Call of Duty. The Italian networks did not perform as well as under normal circumstances, but customers were able to do as they please, from a digital perspective at least.

Although the telcos might not have welcomed the stress which came with the dramatic shift in network usage, it is a useful test.

“There have been many bold predictions made about the future in recent weeks,” said Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri. “My hunch is that things will broadly go back to how they were before this crisis began. But trends and technologies that were already happening will speed up. So more remote working and video conferencing will increase the need for better connectivity.”

Remote working and mobility were two trends which were slowly emerging thanks to better connectivity in the digital economy, but coronavirus might have acted as an accelerator. Some companies will go back to the pre-COVID-19 normality, but others will see the benefits of remote and flexible working, holding onto at least some of the enforced changes.

Networks are holding strong, some even boast of leftover headroom, though events of today might see the evolution of the workforce alter the demands on connectivity.

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.