ISE COVID-19 Impact Updates #3

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Recent updates include notices from Concordia, Heficed, Nurse-Family Partnership, SocialCatfish.com, WalletHub, and Whistleout. Visit https://www.isemag.com/category/safety/telecom-covid-19-network-impact-wireless-wireline/ often to find more COVID-19 Impact Updates.


Report Shows How US Internet Speeds Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Many businesses, workplaces, and schools shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means a lot of Americans have shifted to telecommuting and home-schooling, putting a heavy strain on internet bandwidth. At WhistleOut, we wanted to see how that affected internet speeds across the country.

You can see the full report here: https://www.whistleout.com/Internet/Guides/pandemic-internet-speed-changes

Here are some highlights from our report:
You may expect internet speeds to slow down with the extra strain, but the average internet speed in the US increased after the pandemic started, from 84.9 Mbps to 94.6 Mbps. This could be due to consumers upgrading their internet and testing their new connection, or because some Internet Service Providers increased overall internet speeds in response to the pandemic.

The states with the biggest increases in internet speeds were Wyoming (52% increase), Alaska (40% increase), and Kentucky (37% increase).

The states with the biggest decreases in internet speeds were West Virginia (13% decrease), Hawaii (8% decrease), Delaware (8% decrease).

Methodology: We looked at over 717,000 internet speed tests, comparing the average results per state from the period prior to the COVID-19 U.S. outbreak (mid-January to mid-March 2020) to the period after the pandemic started (mid-March to early July 2020). We excluded cellular data speed tests, focusing only on home broadband internet connections.


Pandemic-Induced Cyberattacks Persist

Online threats retain sky-high levels — the COVID-19 pandemic has forced more people, businesses, and governments, to move online. This has resulted in a significant surge of hacking incidents that continue to exhaust the industry. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched virtually every aspect of human life—from health to housing to economy in general. With uncertainty looming over the future of physical services and remote work on the rise, many businesses and organizations have taken the opportunity to move online and put an extra effort into increasing digital presence. But this decision has been met with multiple challenges, including an ever-increasing number of cybersecurity incidents.

The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) has recently reported that all around the world corporations, governments, and other critical infrastructures continue to suffer from malicious agents using phishing, social engineering, ransomware, and other scamming tactics. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) has seen a fivefold rise in digital attacks targeting its staff and public at large. According to Vincentas Grinius, CEO at Heficed, a network infrastructure solutions provider, the spike in cyberattacks is unequivocally linked to the pandemic.

“The current events have created a new set of opportunities for cybercriminals. Hackers have been exploiting increased dependency on solid network infrastructures and exposed their shortcomings that previously may have been set aside,” said V. Grinius. “The market is still experiencing quite an aftershock of the first COVID-19 wave, and until the dust settles down it is unlikely that scammers will stop searching for weak spots to take advantage of.”

Heficed has also experienced multiple hacking attempts. The total number of attacks has grown by 300% this year, and out of all the incidents in the last two years, 85% occurred in 2020. According to Mr. Grinius, such a load, though admittedly staggering, has not been entirely unexpected and is manageable—but only with proper preemptive measures.

“We have definitely noticed a sharp increase in abuse and cyberattacks during the pandemic period,” said Mr. Grinius. “However, it is also clear that this new trend is not going away any time soon. That is why have directed our focus towards strengthening the abuse desk management, including the DDoS mitigation and allocating more human and infrastructure resources to be aligned with the new risks.”

The continuous surge in cyberattacks poses an important question—how will it reshape the digital world? While it is rather difficult to predict post-pandemic tendencies, Mr. Grinius noted that, pandemic or not, cybersecurity should remain among the top priorities, both at present and after the virus is eradicated.

“A crisis like this increases distress and vulnerability, which cybercriminals aim to exploit,” said Mr. Grinius. “As hackers are getting more sophisticated, we must also become more inventive, predictive and adaptive. It is the online community’s imperative to ensure people’s security and understand that what happens on the Internet often translates into the real world.”

About Heficed: Headquartered in London, Heficed provides full-range services for IP lease, monetization, and management services. Heficed serves around 60 multi-billion industries starting from hosting to automotive or healthcare. With the millions of IP addresses and 12 years of industry experience and the operations globally Heficed can meet any demand needs. That includes automated provisioning bare-metal solutions and cloud services in 9 locations around the world. In July Heficed announced it will be detaching its IP Address Market from the current product suite, and launch it under a new platform –  IPXO. More information: https://www.heficed.com.


Nurse-Family Partnership Recognizes Verizon and ATG With Robert F. Hill Award for Exceptional Impact

iPhones keep moms connected to their nurses during the pandemic

Nurse-Family Partnership® (NFP), a national program serving first-time moms and their children living in poverty, recognized Verizon and Action Technologies Group (ATG) for their partnership in providing iPhones at no cost to moms in need since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Robert F. Hill Award for Exceptional Impact was presented this morning Re:Imagine, NFP’s first-ever national online event. The award is typically presented at NFP’s annual symposium, which was “reimagined” this year as a virtual space for connecting, learning and reenergizing.

After stay-at-home restrictions were put in place, local Nurse-Family Partnership nurses across the U.S. identified that a significant number of clients – first-time moms – did not have access to a smartphone and would no longer be able to communicate with their nurses during the pandemic. To help NFP moms keep their critical connection with their nurses, the Nurse-Family Partnership National Service Office worked with Verizon and ATG to provide 3,800 iPhones with data plans at no cost to moms in 39 states. This program, called Phones for Families, represents a gift to moms of more than $1 million in products and discounted services from Nurse-Family Partnership’s two largest corporate partners.

“For thousands of expectant and new moms without phones, being forced to move to telehealth by the pandemic would have meant that they lost access to their NFP nurses at the worst possible time,” said Frank Daidone, president and chief executive officer of Nurse-Family Partnership’s National Service Office. “Verizon and ATG partnered with us at a critical time to remove the barrier to telehealth and ensure that moms and nurses could stay in touch. NFP could not have created and implemented Phones for Families without Verizon and ATG as partners.”

In addition to Verizon providing iPhones for thousands of NFP moms at no cost to the moms, Verizon and ATG have provided technical expertise and operational support, which made it possible for Nurse-Family Partnership to rapidly launch this initiative at the beginning of the pandemic. Nine percent of NFP’s nurse-client telehealth visits have taken place on a phone provided by Verizon.

“We are honored by Nurse-Family Partnership’s recognition for this special work that ensured NFP moms in the program had the necessary resources and connectivity at their fingertips when they could no longer meet with their nurses in person,” said Patty Roze, vice president of State, Local and Education at Verizon. “Our team was able to quickly step in and help support NFP’s mission by delivering 4G LTE data plans and 3,800 iPhones at no cost to the first-time and expectant mothers.”

ATG – a Telecom and IT solutions company – has donated in-kind services valued at more than $100,000. This donation included iPhone programming, security and mail distribution, which put phones quickly into the hands of moms throughout the pandemic.

“We are proud to partner with NFP and Verizon to provide these new and soon-to-be moms access to invaluable resources during the times they need it most. Being a part of this project has inspired us to offer more within our own communities,” said Matthew Pannell, founder and chief operating officer of ATG.

The Exceptional Impact Award celebrates individuals and organizations who have made a momentous impact on Nurse-Family Partnership’s mission and vision for the future. Named for Robert F. Hill – our inaugural board chairman and one of the first recipients of the award – this award is given to those that have championed efforts to provide better opportunities for first-time mothers and their children. The award honors those who tirelessly advocate for Nurse-Family Partnership to change the lives of vulnerable families across the country and end the cycle of poverty.

About Nurse-Family Partnership: Nurse-Family Partnership® changes the future for the most vulnerable babies born into poverty by giving a first-time mom trusted support from her own personal nurse throughout the first 1,000 days, from pregnancy until her child’s second birthday. The program currently has over 40,000 families enrolled in 40 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and many Tribal communities. Nurse-Family Partnership is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. Follow NFP on Twitter @NFP_nursefamily, Facebook at facebook.com/nursefamilypartnership and Instagram at www.instagram.com/nursefamilypartnership/.

About Verizon: Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, Nasdaq: VZ) was formed on June 30, 2000 and is celebrating its 20th year as one of the world’s leading providers of technology, communications, information and entertainment products and services. Headquartered in New York City and with a presence around the world, Verizon generated revenues of $131.9 billion in 2019.  The company offers voice, data and video services and solutions on its award-winning networks and platforms, delivering on customers’ demand for mobility, reliable network connectivity, security and control.

About Action Technologies Group: Action Technologies Group (ATG) is a Telecom and IT solutions company whose purpose is to treat every situation with a sense of urgency and provide quick, knowledgeable and dependable solutions.


COVID-19 Stress Is Affecting How We Use Our Screens, New Study Finds

Concordia researcher Najmeh Khalili-Mahani says age, gender and subjective worries influence what media we access as pandemic relief

Where would we be without our video streaming services during this apparently endless pandemic?

According to a new study looking at the relationship between screen use and stress during the COVID-19 outbreak, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crave and other streaming services would be the first things we take with us if (and when) we go into isolation. This is true across ages and genders.

But tastes diverge from there, says Najmeh Khalili-Mahani, the Concordia researcher who led the study with Amber Pahayahay, a visiting public health student from the University of Waterloo. In a survey launched shortly after the lockdown began in mid-March, Khalili-Mahani polled almost 700 respondents about their preferences, how they changed their screen usage and how they approached different screen-based media experiences.

The researchers published their paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“Using media in a passive, distractive way was important for respondents,” says Khalili-Mahani, a neuroscientist at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre. “However, we found a significant difference in genders in terms of how they approach media and how they ignore it.”

Women, they found, were more likely to use social media than men to cope with COVID-related stress. However, women, especially those over 55, were also more likely to ignore it if they found much of the content misleading or overwhelming.

A Digital Refuge?
The study builds on Khalili-Mahani’s previous research into the relationship between screens and stress. It suggested that the strong link between stress and screen addiction was because screens provided a refuge from stress. “Our question in this new study was whether increased stress causes increase in screen use, and this is what we found to be true.”

The survey begins by asking how stressed respondents are due to the pandemic, and then it has them evaluate whether their screen media usage has changed. Are they spending more time on social media, streaming more content, reading more online news, participating in more teleconferences? Respondents were categorized by age, gender, self-reported mental health and subjective stress level.

More than 90 per cent of respondents reported some level of stress. This led to increased use of Facebook, television, YouTube and streaming services.

Breaking the results down further, the researchers found the following:
Respondents who considered their mental health “not good” were twice as likely to prefer streaming services as a coping mechanism.
Women were twice as likely to turn to social media as men.
Under-35s were three times more likely to opt for computer or video games.
Over-55s were more likely to turn to network TV or print media.
Media, and especially social networks, were helpful in dealing with stress if they provided positive support and did not emphasize sensational or false information.

The authors also noted an age disparity in respondents’ concerns about the toll of screen usage on their physical and mental health.

Younger respondents — those using more social media and less print material — were more concerned about how screen time affected their physical health.

Older respondents said they were more worried about the effects on their mental well-being.

Looking Long-Term
“This is the first time in our history that we are forced to be on screens as long as we are these days. Both older and younger people are reacting to this new reality,” Khalili-Mahani says.

“We have not even begun to look into the health ramifications of our constant screen usage. Humans are adaptive, but it will take time for our bodies to adapt to this new normal.”

The survey is still open and interested participants can take it here.

Read the cited paper: “What Media Helps, What Media Hurts: A Mixed Methods Survey Study of Coping With COVID-19 Using the Media Repertoire Framework and the Appraisal Theory of Stress.”


New Study: Catfishing: A Growing Epidemic During Coronavirus

Exclusive Interviews with Nigerian Scammer and Recent Victim Now Homeless

Americans lost $201 million to romance scammers in 2019, and a new study warns catfishing is skyrocketing during Coronavirus as online dating and loneliness increase.

The FTC reported romance scams increased by 40% last year, up from $143 million in 2018. For the first time, more Americans lost money to romance scams than any other scam.

SocialCatfish.com released a study: Catfishing: A Growing Epidemic During COVID-19 using the most recent data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Nigerian romance scams are the most prevalent and the study includes an exclusive seven-minute video interview with a Nigerian scammer, a 20-page leaked playbook they use and a video interview with a West Virginia victim who is now homeless.

Here Are Key Findings
The 5 states with the most catfishing victims include: California (2,206 victims), Florida (1,363), Texas (1,287) New York (931), Pennsylvania (607).
A record 26.6 million people are using data apps in 2020, an 18.4% increase from 2019.
31% of users said they are spending more time on dating apps.
The Better Business Bureau is seeing up to a 40% increase from certain banks whose customers are trying to recover money they lost to romance scammers in 2020.

Here Are 5 Tricks Romance Scammers Are Using During Coronavirus
1. Cannot Meet Because of COVID: The hallmark of a catfish scammer is to come up with excuses why they cannot meet, such as pretending to be in the military overseas. The pandemic gives them a built-in excuse not to meet. Beware.

2. Need Money for a COVID Emergency: Once they form an emotional connection with lonely victims, they ask for money saying they are sick and need help with treatment, or are low on food, water, and other supplies. These are lies, as people who have never met do not ask you for money for an emergency, they would rely on family and friends.

3. They Are Overly Sweet and Confessing Love Quickly: If you are stuck in your house with limited contact with your loved ones, then someone else’s sweet words can win you over, especially when they are confessing their undying love for you. Beware of someone who says overly sweet things that are too good to be true.

4. Moving Too Fast: Scammers are using the extra time at home to chat more often so they can build trust and drain your bank account faster. Beware if your relationship begins to move too fast.

5. Do Not Want to Video Chat: The oldest excuse in the book… they cannot video chat with you because their video camera is supposedly “broken”, or they do not have the best access to Wi-Fi. These are red flags. The real reason they do not want to video chat with you is that they are pretending to be the person you see in the pictures and are not actually that person.

Here are 5 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim
1. Never Give Money: Do not give anyone you meet online money, no matter the reason.

2. Do Not Give Personal Information:  Scammers can use basic information to commit identity fraud, get access to your banks and steal your money.

3. Take Things Slow: If you like someone online, do not let them rush you. Nigerian romance scammers will be pushy about falling in love right away. If that is the case, know something is not right.

4. Meet or Video Chat: Do not form a relationship with someone who will not video chat with you or meet you in person.

5. Compare Against the Published Nigerian Scam Playbook: Compare what they are saying to the playbook to see if it matches at all. If what the person sent you matches word-for-word to the text in the playbook or is similar to it, then that is a major red flag. This means they are probably copying and pasting everything they are telling you from a scammer’s playbook and will try to steal your money later.


36% of Americans Plan to Reduce Cell Phone Cost Due to COVID-19

Roughly 36 percent of Americans plan to reduce the cost of their cell phone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the personal-finance website WalletHub’s 2020 iPhone Survey, released today. To help people save money on their cell phone bills, WalletHub has also produced a handy Cell Phone Savings Calculator, which crunches the numbers on whether it’s better to buy a phone upfront or pay in installments and much more.

Additional Highlights

Key stats:
iPhone demand is still high: Despite high unemployment, 1 in 3 people plan on getting the new iPhone this year.
MVP – most valuable possession: Almost half of Americans say that their phone is their most important belonging during the pandemic.
Americans want price reductions: Almost 75 percent of people think that Apple should charge less for the iPhone due to COVID-19.
iPhones worth borrowing for: About 73 percent more people think that the new iPhone is worth going into debt for compared to last year.

For the complete survey results, visit https://wallethub.com/blog/iphone-survey/39379/

Please let me know if you have any questions or if you would like to schedule a phone, Skype or in-studio interview with one of our experts. Below, please find a WalletHub Q&A with commentary that you can use as needed; audio version is also available.

Q&A With Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub Analyst

Do you have any advice for saving on a smart phone, considering the fact that 36 percent of Americans plan to reduce the cost of their cell phone this year?
“When the iPhone first came out, it was worth getting each new generation of phone because the improvements were so big. Now, there are only marginal differences with each new model, which means you’re better off buying a phone that’s at least one generation old,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez. “Buying a slightly older phone allows you to have a nearly identical user experience for around half the price. Other ways to save include carrier discounts, along with buying used, good-condition phones. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to put financial pressure on consumers, it’s wise for people to rein in their spending and put the extra money they would have spent on the latest phone toward other bills.”

What advice do you have for reducing the cost of wireless coverage, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“There are many ways to cut down the cost of owning a smart phone while still getting quality coverage, such as shopping around and timing your purchases around good promotional deals. One of the best methods to save money is to get coverage from a “budget” phone provider that operates on the same network as one of the big brands. Consumers can save a lot of money while having no noticeable difference in coverage,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez. “You might also be able to save money by switching to automatic payments or bundling your coverage with a few other people. If you’re struggling to pay your cell phone bills due to COVID-19, call your provider and ask if they can offer any temporary relief.”

Why do almost half of consumers think that their phone is their most important possession during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“The reason that almost half of consumers think their phone is the most important thing they own during the COVID-19 pandemic is that a cell phone can perform so many crucial functions. A phone can keep people connected to their loved ones during social distancing, order deliveries of food and groceries, facilitate remote work, contact doctors, and help people stay up-to-date on the latest news,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “One of the biggest things a cell phone can provide is steady internet access even without Wi-Fi, which is extremely important for households that don’t have any other way to get online. Cell phones are crucial for contact-tracing programs that track the spread of COVID-19, too.”

The above Q&A is also provided in audio format.

 

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