Virus in UK Raises Concerns About Broadband Overload and Cybersecurity

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Experts in Britain are waving a flag of concern over broadband congestion and cybersecurity risks as millions of the UK’s workforces are currently working from home due to the coronavirus crisis. According to The Daily Mail, up to a fifth of the UK’s workforce could be sick at one point during the coronavirus peak and a similar number of uninfected people may be self-isolating at home to avoid catching the disease.

Why the concern? 

Ofcom, the UK’s Office of Communications, released a study last year that estimated only about 10 percent of homes and businesses in the UK have access to the latest full-fiber broadband. Consequently, the majority of customers rely on internet served by an antiquated copper-wire network, which adds a significant strain on infrastructure as home users use video conferencing and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to get their work done. 

Professor Izzat Darwazeh, Chair of Communications Engineering at University College London, expressed concerns for potential internet blackouts in rural areas. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said, “I doubt that the core network can cope if even tens of thousands of people who work in the City of London are forced to work from home and need access to video conferencing and trading systems.”

Jeff McElfresh, CEO of AT&T Communications, also weighed in saying: “Video is already 70 percent of all network traffic. The moment you add in videoconferencing to all the shows the kids are watching because schools are closed, it could be a problem if everyone is trying to get on at the same time.”

Openreach, the UK’s largest residential broadband provider, disagrees with Darwazeh and McElfresh, and is confident the network can handle massive home-working. As reported by MailOnline, Openreach said the system is built to support ‘evening peak’ capacity, which is defined as ten times the typical daytime [working hours] demand.

The Daily Mail also reported that experts have voiced their concerns about cybersecurity since the massive number of employees working from home may increase the likelihood of being hacked due to weak security settings that are otherwise monitored by secure office networks. Professor Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity specialist from the University of Surrey, said systems used by banks and other businesses could be at risk. “Using personal computers to access work networks could also raise cybersecurity issues for businesses if the devices aren’t kept up to date,” said Woodward. Experts advise all workers to use VPN.

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