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Norton, MA
USA

Bandwidth Monitoring

Projects

Various electronics, programming, welding, mods and other non-automotive projects.

Bandwidth Monitoring

Joe Angell

Comcast has started expanding its 300 GB/month bandwidth caps to other areas of the country. With $10 per 50 GB over, or paying $35 to get back to the unlimited bandwidth you had before, this seems like something that could get expensive fast -- for me, it would be over $100/month just for internet alone, and I own my modem and don't have a cable TV or phone package.

Luckily for me, this isn't happening in my area (...yet), but I wanted to figure out just how much bandwidth I was using before it was something I did have to worry about.  Comcast provides a bandwidth meter through their accounts and snapshot pages, but we have four computers, two iPhones, an iPad, two Canary security cameras, two Apple TVs, the Magic Mirror, various game consoles, and a few other internet-connected devices around the house.  On top of that, I wanted to keep using my Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, along with the two other gigabit switches and Airport Express I have hooked up to my network.  I wanted to be able to monitor bandwidth on a per-device basis, as well as a per-app basis.

I found two complementary means of handling this, one at the router, and the other at the computer.

At the Computer: Little Snitch

My primary machine is a Mac, so I figured the most likely place for a rogue process would be there.  I have a few known high-bandwidth apps, like BackBlaze for offsite backups, Apple Photos for syncing photos between devices, plus the usual web browsing and downloads.  If there was an app that would be using too much bandwidth, it would be here.

I found references to applications that could read information from the router via SNMP, but the latest iterations of the Airport Extreme Base Station no longer support this.  Not that I expect it would have been hugely useful, as I think it would only have given me whole network information, and i wanted per-machine and per-app information.  While you can enable SNMP on each Mac and probably on Windows machines to get machine-level monitoring for them, it wouldn't get me information for iPhones and other network devices.

After much searching, it looked like the best choice was going to be Little Snitch.  I'd know abut this app for years, but I wasn't paranoid about the apps I had installed to want to bother approving and denying individual connections.  But Little Snitch also features a network monitor, so I decided to give it a go.  To be honest, I'm rather surprised there isn't a simple per-app network monitor out there that is less imposing than something like this for less advanced users, especially on the Mac.

While you can disable Little Snitch rules system and just allow all connections, I decided to keep it on.  I still approved pretty much everything, though.  But that's not why we're really here.

The network monitor is what we're really interested in.  This keeps track of only WAN contacts -- it will not show any LAN connections at all.  This makes it extremely useful for bandwidth monitoring.  The first thing to do is sort the list by traffic amounts, which puts the highest-bandwidth applications up top.  Here you can see that bztransmit (BackBlaze) does a fair bit of uploading (red bar), because it does constant continuous backups.  I expected it to be one of my higher bandwidth processes, and the roughly 2 GB of data a day seems about right to me.

Double-clicking on a process opens an info window showing its total traffic and how long monitoring has been going on for.  I think this persists until you restart the application, but I haven't had to reboot yet, so I'm not quite sure. 

Next, selecting the entirety of the graph at the bottom (cmd-a) will show the upload (red) and download (green) of the selected processes, or all processes if none are selected.  When zoomed all the way at, this shows an hour of data.  In the last hour, this says I used 36.5 MB down and 89.9 MB up.  At other heavier use times I've seen it being closer to 2 GB/hour, but that's not constant.

With this information, you can pretty easily figure out which tasks are using up all your bandwidth and deal with them as appropriate, either changing their settings to reduce their bandwidth usage or deleting them entirely.

Little Snitch showing network activity sorted by the most bandwidth used, with the last hours worth of activity graphed at the bottom of the window.

Little Snitch's process information display, here showing traffic activity for BackBlaze.

I didn't look into Windows traffic monitoring solutions.  I use my Windows machine for a subset of tasks, so it's not as important to monitor traffic there.  I also didn't install Little Snitch on my other Macs as yet, and likely will only do so if the router-side analysis suggests that I should.

At the Router: Gargoyle

My router is an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, with gigabit ethernet and 802.11ac wifi.  I wanted to keep using it, especially for wifi. Unfortunately, there is effectively zero bandwidth monitoring support in the AXBS.

After a bit of googling I hit on Gargoyle, a router management tool based on DD-WRT but with an easier to use interface.  For me, the big thing was that it provided a per-machine breakdown of bandwidth usage, complete with charts so the you can quickly find the biggest offenders.  Even better, it stores a years worth of data, which you can view in one month increments, or the days of the most recent month, or by minute on the most recent day.  The main question was how to set it up on my network.

I decided to order a TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND router from Amazon.  This router is supported by Gargoyle, and in fact they sell one with Gargoyle pre-loaded on their site.  Installation was simple -- just plug it into my computer's ethernet port and upload the firmware through the router's own web interface at 192.168.0.1.  After installation, I didn't really have to do anything other than log into 192.168.1.1 and set up a new admin password.  wifi is disabled by default, which is what I wanted -- I didn't even attach the antennas.  All the other defaults are perfect for just monitoring bandwidth and passing through traffic, but you can go further and set up per-machine quotas, monitor web activity, dynamic DNS, port forwarding and DMZ, QoS, and more. 

To make the Airport Extreme Base Station work with this, I opened Apple's Airport Utility, went to the AXBS's Network tab, and changed the Router Mode to Off (Bridge Mode).  This effectively turns off the WAN port, DHCP server and NAT traversal.  I unplugged the cable modem from the AXBS and connected it to the Internet port on the TP-LINK router.  Another port from the AXBS and from my other two switches were then plugged into the TP-LINK.

After power-cycling the cable modem, everything worked as expected.  The AXBS is now a gigabit switch and 802.11ac wifi access point.  All traffic goes through the TP-LINK router and out to the internet.  Gargoyle is able to monitor traffic based on the device's MAC address, and thus provides per-device informations.  This allows me to see exactly where my data is going.

The most useful place for monitoring bandwidth is Gargoyle's B/W Distribution page, from the Status menu.  This provides both total bandwidth usage and charts showing the relative usage for each device.  One days worth of data showed that the main offenders are indeed my Mac (Ryoga-IV), as well as my iPad (Royga-Pad-2), on which we watch a lot of stream video.  Gargoyle automatically finds hostnames found for DHCP clients, and you can set them manually for machines with static IPs.  I still have to track down what a few of these clients are.

Bandwidth distribution graph showing my iPad and Mac as the highest bandwidth devices on my network.

A per-machine breakdown of my bandwidth usage.

I actually think my two Canary units (likely the C100K hosts in the bandwidth table) was the primary culprit to my high bandwidth usage, as it streams encrypted high definition video to a server for processing, and in the most common configurations it does this pretty much continuously.  Comcast's usage monitor would report nearly a terabyte of usage some months (although that was around the time Apple Photos came out, and 350 GB of photos were being uploaded to my iCloud Photo Library), but 650 GB was a pretty average use of late.  Just before setting up Gargoyle I had recently switched Canary to Privacy mode when I'm at home, which completely disables the camera system and video stream.  It means I can't do panic recording or viewing while the system thinks I'm at home, but it should significantly reduce the amount of bandwidth it uses.

Rant

I still think this whole thing is silly.  Comcast's own services (like their own security camera) don't count towards the bandwidth cap, which sounds like a violation of net neutrality.  Supposedly the average user only use 40 GB of data a month in 2015, but that's because there are a lot of casual users who just check their email and likely use well below that amount.  Couple that with the fact that today's high-bandwidth users is tomorrow's average user (40 GB of data wasn't exactly a small amount ten years ago; today, downloading an Xbox One or Playstation 4 game can easily be over 20 GB alone, not to mention the increase in streaming video usage like Netflix and Hulu), and limiting bandwidth for short-term corporate monetary gain is just going to limit the introduction of new high-bandwidth services in the future.  The fact that I have literally zero other options at anywhere near cable modem speed and latency where I live (I can't even get DSL), my only option is to use Comcast or have unacceptably slow satellite or unacceptably expensive cellular internet.  Maybe someday Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS will make it to the rest of the country, but until then I'm stuck with what I have.