Zoom Work Meetings, Anyone?

| August 28, 2020

Researchers at USC ISI prepare for future emergencies during COVID 19 pandemic.

Zoom and other virtual platforms see an increase in Internet usage as COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Zoom and other virtual platforms see an increase in Internet usage as COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been counting the birthday celebrations spent indoors, the amount of Netflix shows we’ve binge watched, and the number of days left until school is back in session. While the majority of us have experienced a decrease in productivity, researchers at Information Sciences Institute (ISI) have been investing in solutions to take preventative measures of securing network infrastructures and preparing for future emergencies. 

Screen Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic

John Heidemann, a research professor of Computer Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, has been measuring the changes in IP address use due to COVID-19 stay-at-home measures. 

“Our COVID-based analysis of Internet addresses will reuse data we’re taking for Internet outages,” Heidemann commented. “We have quite a bit of historical data to provide context. We’ve been taking Internet censuses since 2006, and we’ve been observing network outages since October 2014.”

His project, Measuring the Internet during Novel Coronavirus to Evaluate Quarantine (RAPID-MINCEQ), researches the changes in Internet use during the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020. The project plans to develop two methods of assessing Internet use by measuring address activity and how it changes relative to historical trends. RAPID-MINCEQ received recognition by the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the RAPID award in May 2020. 

We are already measuring Internet address usage, and we’ll continue to do so,” Heidemann explained. The question is: how much change in usage will we see as a result of COVID driven changes?”  

In his 2014 paper, When the Internet Sleeps: Correlating Diurnal Networks with External Factors, Heidemann, working with Lin Quan and Yuri Pradkin, analyzed how in South America and Asia, Internet addresses change dramatically over the course of the day, but in other parts of the world, address usage shows much smaller change. 

“Different countries have different policies in how Internet addresses are used,” Heidemann explains. “Our results suggest that we may not see as many changes in parts of the United States as we see in some other countries.”

His COVID-based analysis of Internet addresses will reuse data taken from Internet outages with new analysis underway with Xiao Song, a Viterbi Master’s student. They predict that as businesses and universities begin to reopen, we’ll likely see the reverse effect of an increased reliance on online meeting software.

The Switch to Online Platforms

Jelena Mirkovic, a project leader at ISI and research associate professor of Computer Science at USC Viterbi, explores this question through her project, Measuring Changes in Regional Network Traffic due to COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Measures. Her project identifies shifts in network traffic and analyzes network traces due to Covid-19 home orders.

As businesses and schools begin to transition back to in-person classes and platforms, will these organizations make a permanent shift to online platforms? 

“I think this is a possible outcome since we have all become more comfortable with virtual interactions and we’ve seen that in many cases they can keep the productivity going,” Jelena Mirkovic expanded. “Many activities that so far were only conceivable in person, such as conferences, were very successfully conducted in online format.” 

Numerous businesses that operated remotely leveraged the Internet to deliver services to their customers. Networks have adopted a variety of online meeting solutions, including popular applications like BlueJeans, Google Meet, GoTo Meeting, Skype, Webex, Zoom, and Steam. When choosing the “right” online meeting application, businesses must factor in the costs, security and privacy, existing platform integration, and existing business ties.

A Changing Education Imperative

As more participants switch to virtual platforms, online meetings continues to become the new norm in many workplaces. Many employees may have experienced reluctance to switch to a virtual workplace, while others may have realized that remote work meetings are deemed more efficient than in-person gatherings. However, when it comes to educational institutions, universities have already announced extended remote learning, though many don’t anticipate permanent shifts.

As virtual office hours, classes, and group project meetings become the new normal, educational institutions must continue to improve the network security and user experience for their students. While universities are releasing their plans for the fall semester, it’s important for them to prepare for potential network attacks that organizations experienced during the pandemic. 

The past few months transitioning to online platforms have given networks an opportunity to have a “trial-and-error” period, allowing businesses to study how networks and organizations can be equipped for future changes. When stay-at-home orders are completely lifted, businesses and educational institutions hope to return to normal, but may see an increase in telecommuting and reliance on online meeting softwares.

“Educational institutions have been moving in the online learning direction for a long time – I think this shift will probably accelerate after the pandemic,” Heidemann remarked. “On the other hand, I don’t think we’ll ever fully shift to online learning – it just may become more mainstream than it was before. Many students and teachers still prefer in-person learning, so we’re likely looking at a hybrid model for the future.”

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