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The Internet Measurements Workshop at Africa Internet Summit 2019

From measuring web latency and mobile broadband, from measuring disruption on the Internet to a narration of an actual shutdown of the Internet, from a survey on Internet measurement tools usage in Africa to tutorials on how to use these tools, the 2019 Internet measurements workshop at the Africa Internet Summit 2019 held in Kampala, Uganda, was packed with talks, discussions, and tutorials to remember. Held on 15 and 16 of June 2019, this event organized by AFRINIC recorded an attendance of over 30 individuals comprising various individuals/stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. There were researchers from the university, network administrators and engineers from ISPs, national research and education networks, schools and institutional networks, students from higher institutions, and some representatives of African governments, among others. The morning hours of the 2-day workshop witnessed talks delivered by remote and live speakers, which were followed by tutorials in the afternoons -- RIPE atlas on the 15th and Measurement Lab (M-LAB) on the 16th.

Day 1

The workshop opened on Saturday, 15 June 2019, with a remote presentation by Alemnew Asrese of Aalto University, Finland, titled Measuring Web Latency: Observations from Largescale Measurement. The presentation focused on the evolution of the web over time, how we moved from static pages to media-rich content and how the complexity of the web today affects the user quality of experience (QoE). This presentation also introduced the webperf, a command line measurement tool that is capable of measuring the latency metrics that influence the QoE, such as DNS lookup time, TCP connection time, TLS handshake time, HTTP elements & redirects, etc. Also presented by Alemnew was the performance of 3 popular websites, Youtube, Facebook, and Google, across different ISPs and regions and based on experiments carried out over the SamKnows platform. The websites were evaluated using the latency metrics outlined above.

The second presentation of the day was titled 'Measuring Mobile Broadband Performance and Reliability' delivered remotely by Ahmed Elmokashfi of Simula Lab, Norway. The presentation built a case for mobile broadband (MBB) measurement highlighting the fact that MBB is the main means of Internet access in many African countries. The speaker introduced the NORNET Edge (NNE); a dedicated infrastructure for measurements and experimentation in MBB networks with about 100 active stationary measurement nodes spread across Norway and multihomed to all major MBB operators in the country. NNE is suitable for assessing reliability, the speaker opined, because it enables repeatable controlled measurements, capture time evolution, and allows the collection of a rich set of connection metadata, such as signal quality, radio access technology, and attachment information. A number of research-works enabled by NNE and many of the system's use cases were highlighted. Results were presented showing how data produced by the NNE infrastructure was used to significantly decrease the large network failures experienced by the operators in Norway. 

Gerardo Viviers' presentation on RIPE Atlas measurement tools was the third talk of the day and served as the prelude to the hands-on tutorial that came afterwards. The speaker first introduced the RIPEstat; an interface for Internet data and statistics developed by RIPE NCC that enables visualisation of BGP routing information among other features. He went on to explain that RIPE Atlas is an active measurement platform that employs a global network of probes that measure Internet connectivity and reachability. These probes are hosted by volunteers across the world and the measurement data from these devices are publicly available. The probes carry out built-in measurement towards root nameservers and RIPE Atlas anchors as well as user-defined measurements utilising one of the six available measurement types, ping, traceroute, DNS, SSL/TLS, NTP and HTTP. Other popular features of RIPE Atlas were also highlighted during the presentation including APIs and CLIs tools, LatencyMON, DomainMON, etc.

The last activity on the first day involved hands-on tutorials on the use of RIPE Atlas tools to conduct Internet measurements. Gerardo began by showing the class how to set up and conduct a simple latency test using the ping feature. Measurements were also run towards DNS servers to show resolution time and HTTP experiments towards anchors were also conducted for page load time measurement. The attendees were then advised to start any measurement experiment of interest while Gerardo, Jasper den Hertog and Lia Hestina (all of RIPE NCC) were on hand to offer help where needed. 

Day 2

The second day of the workshop, 16 June 2019, began with a presentation by Waraigala Wakabi of cipesa.org, titled Internet Disruption Measurements, focusing on measuring for malicious tampering of the Internet by the state and by private actors such as ISPs and how this tampering affects internet freedom. He described the need for activists to collect evidence of disruption through Internet measurement as one of the main reasons to get involved in measurement activities. He also touched on the need to have reliable, continuous, and comprehensive empirical data about the nature of Internet censorship around the world and that this could only be achieved via a free and open Internet. Wakabi also touched on the challenges of Internet measurement in Africa. The challenges he identified included technical difficulties and the lack of policies regulating the availability of network data. His presentation concluded with a brief on social media tax in Uganda.

From the presentation on the need to measure Internet disruptions to a narration by Yazid Akanho of the recently recorded disruption in Benin in his talk titled  Internet shutdown in Benin: An Internet measurement perspective. Yazid took the audience through the morning events of 28 April 2019, the day of the country's last parliamentary election, when the Internet became inaccessible throughout the country and how 'Les Associations de l'Écosystème d'Internet au Bénin', a group comprising of members of the Internet community in the country, marched in protest and issued a communique against the shutdown. He talked about the use of measurement tools, including netblocks' censorship checker web app and netblock hardware measurement probe, to map Internet freedom in real time. He also talked about OONI, a global observation network for detecting censorship, surveillance and traffic manipulation. Graphs from RIPE Atlas measurement showing the Internet downtime during the disruption period in Benin were also presented.

The third presentation was by Musab Isah who briefed the attendees on the recently conducted Internet measurement awareness survey. He touched on the key findings of the survey including the prevalence of Internet measurement in Africa, which revealed that only 25.2% of the respondents were running/had run some measurement campaign in the region. Findings related to the main purpose of running Internet measurement, the use of available Internet measurement platforms, and the hosting of the platforms were also presented. RIPE Atlas was described as the most popular platform in the region in the talk although a high rate of measurement probe abandonment and general apathy towards measurement was also highlighted. Increasing sensitisation, building the necessary skills to conduct measurement, hosting more probes, and increased focus on mobile broadband measurement were some of the recommendations shared as the ways to improve on the current poor state of Internet measurement in the region.

The talk on the survey was followed by 'Creating a "long-term memory" for the global DNS' presentation by Willem Toorop of NINETLABS, Netherlands. The presentation was about a project geared towards measuring large parts of the global DNS on a daily basis. The speaker explained that the need to conduct such a longitudinal measurement of the DNS is for the fact that almost every networked service relies on the DNS service and that measuring what is in the DNS tells a story about the evolution of the Internet and its protocols. He explained their methodology which involved the use of OpenINTEL to send a fixed set of queries for all covered domains once every 24 hours covering over 216 million domains per day. Willem shared some examples of how they use the data from OpenINTEL to monitor DNSSEC operational practices, to improve on DNS resilience, and to study TXT record.

As was the case on the first day, Georgia Bullen and Peter Boothe of M-LAB and Google respectively gave a presentation on M-LAB platform and followed that up with a hands-on measurement exercise. M-LAB was introduced as a joint initiative between staff at Code for Science & Society, Google, and Princeton University's PlanetLab to produce an open repository of user-contributed, longitudinal, open-source derived Internet infrastructure data. The collection of data is achieved through the use of special servers deployed in strategic locations on the Internet to respond to, and store the result of, speed-test-related Internet measurement initiated by users. Participants were introduced to the Google BigQuery where the measurement data is stored and from where it could be publicly accessed. They were also shown how to use the platform to plot maps and download regional, country or city-related Internet speed data. Attendees were encouraged to run measurements of their choice and the trainers were available to help out.

The last presentation at the workshop was by Willem Toorop, again. This presentation was meant to prepare the potential participants of the hackathon event scheduled a few days after the workshop. The speaker dubbed the talk Not so short introduction to DNS and took the listeners through the history of DNS, the current trend of moving DNS resolvers to the cloud, the security and privacy issues, and some measurement aspects of DNS from RIPE Atlas perspectives, among other topics discussed.

Willem presentation drew the curtains on the workshop and I leave you with some memorable moments captured during the 2-day event.





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