COVID-19 has created a new normal that has millions of people consuming dramatically more network bandwidth than ever before. For example, Vodafone reported a 50% surge in European internet use in early summer, while Netflix had been requested to cut its bitrate in Europe for 30 days in order to prevent the Internet from collapsing.
Additionally, cybercriminals aimed to take advantage of vulnerable people unaware of phishing scams and their warning signs. This left communication service providers (CSPs) on the frontlines of upgrading network traffic performance, as well as protecting subscribers from cyberattacks.
As a result, CSPs developed new methods of scaling their networks to meet traffic needs, techniques that are likely to carry into the future, long after COVID-19 is behind us. Following are some of the most significant areas COVID-19 has impacted the communications industry, and how its implications have compelled service providers to usher in a new generation of network traffic management and security.
Network Performance Enhancements
COVID-19 has forced many organizations to quickly consider the changing demands of hundreds of millions of users staying at home and completely reliant on their digital devices. This led CSPs in many countries, such as Spain, to institute guidelines and requirements for responsible internet usage. Some of these guidelines included restricting downloads to documents needed immediately, such as legal documents versus pictures, sending links to large files instead of attaching them in emails, and reserving leisure applications for non-peak hours (11 pm to 7 pm).
In the US, T-Mobile saw an 87% increase in usage of video conferencing applications such as Zoom, Slack, and Webex, a 60% increase in mobile hotspot usage, and an 85% increase in video game traffic since the beginning of the stay-at-home orders. This increase in application usage set off alarms for some CSP networks, raising questions about their ability to handle an avalanche of data demand.
In response, CSPs implemented network traffic management solutions that assure quality of experience (QoE) and lower congestion with dynamic, policy-based prioritization of traffic for subscribers experiencing slower speeds. Equipped with these solutions, CSPs can handle increased traffic without investing in additional network infrastructure, enabling CSPs to prioritize critical use cases, such as those using the internet to work from home (WFH), and enforcing fair usage of policies for applications and devices across every industry.
Security in the Age of COVID
Similar to network performance and traffic management, security also plays an important role for the customer experience. Individuals and businesses are increasingly subjected to cybersecurity attacks and phishing scams related to COVID-19. Individuals are targets for cybercriminals posing as organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US, offering informational downloads that deliver malware to unsuspecting victims. Adding to the challenge, the roll-out of 5G across myriad applications, such as autonomous vehicles, industrial IoT and others, has vastly expanded the number of access points vulnerable to security breaches.
Security solutions are needed to protect consumers from cyberattacks across all access points such as mobile devices, home networks, connected home devices, and routers. Consumers confused by security jargon can now choose to have high-quality, battle-tested cyber solutions through their CSPs, removing security uncertainties, concerns, and hesitations. Millions of consumers, who otherwise might have delayed their decisions to purchase security offerings, are now well-protected even from advanced cyberattack schemes.
Through a multi-layered approach, CSPs can protect the home network from different types of threats such as malware, phishing, viruses, and botnet, without relying on a specific attack vector. This approach ensures that information flowing across networks from the home to the cloud won’t be compromised. It also offers additional luxuries, such as the option to add parental controls to all digital devices. This becomes especially relevant as COVID-19 has forced many schools to move to virtual classes and created a surge in online entertainment.
One other important factor introduced to CSPs are tools that mitigate DDoS attacks. Even before the pandemic, it was reported that there were 16 DDoS attacks every minute. Compared to Q1 2019, DDoS attacks rose by over 278% in Q1 2020. However, the increase between Q3 2019 and Q1 2020 skyrocketed to 542%. Repelling DDoS attacks has enormous benefits to networks freeing up valuable bandwidth for critical services as CSPs seek to manage increased congestion.
Although it’s anyone’s guess how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, eventually bandwidth usage may diminish once pandemic fears wane and regular routines resume. However, CSPs should be prepared for more permanent changes to WFH and office policies. For example, Twitter and Google recently announced indefinite WFH and WFH until the end of 2020, respectively.
In a world accepting of BYOD and WFH, businesses should strongly consider the simplicity and reliability of their CSPs security-as-a-service solutions. Consider that 95% of organizations allow the use of employee-owned devices in the workplace in some way, and 2 out of 3 employees use their personal devices at work, regardless of the company’s BYOD policy. And unsurprisingly, nearly half of all data breaches emerged through a mobile device.
CSPs must be equipped to provide businesses with a simple, reliable security solution that is installed on the business router and can block both external and internal attacks while providing unprecedented visibility into the network. This level of protection can be achieved only through advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning that can identify and profile all connected devices on the business network, and detect and act upon anomalous device behavior.
No matter what companies decide to do with their work policies, they must be prepared with the right tools for network traffic monitoring and cybersecurity to ensure that all employees are getting the best work experience.
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that CSPs need agile network operations that deliver insights into network performance, security, and customer experience, to provide the best QoE for all users now and beyond COVID.
About the Author: Barry Spielman serves as Security Product Marketing Director for Allot. He is a seasoned marketer with over 25 years’ experience in B2B, product and corporate marketing, much of it in the defense and cyber industries. A former career officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Barry is a Lt. Col. in the IDF reserves. Barry holds a Masters in Science Management from Boston University, a Masters in National Security Affairs from George Washington University, and a BA in Political Science from Bar Ilan University. He is the author of From Gettysburg to Golan: How to Great Battles were Won and the Lessons They Share. For more information, please visit https://www.allot.com/.