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State & Local Government Hit By Malware, Ransomware More Than SMBs

Localities and education networks suffered twice as many infections of the infamous CyptoWall ransomware than other sectors.

Small- and midsized businesses (SMBs) aren't the only ones in the bulls eye of ransomware and other malware attacks: worldwide, nearly 70% of state and local government networks triggered malware or ransomware alerts, as did more than 70% of education networks.

Intrusion prevention firm Sentinel IPS found that about 39% of its other customers in its IPS sensor-based network sounded alerts for malware or ransomware between July 1 and November 9 of this year, among some 30 million alerts. An alert signals that malicious traffic is attempting to leave the organization, such as malware trying to "phone home" to its command and control server, for example. The IPS then blocks that traffic.

"We would think that SMBs would map fairly well with state and local government customers and education. You'd think security would be similar across the board," but the alerts show otherwise, says Ted Gruenloh, director of operations for Sentinel IPS.

State & local government agencies studied in the data include not only agencies but water districts, utilities and police departments, for example. These localities and education sector institutions and departments suffered twice as many infections of the infamous CyptoWall ransomware, according to the sensor data. Overall, state & local governments and education networks made up just 32% of all the of the traffic alerts, but they encompassed 77% of critical alerts of attempted "extrusion," according to Sentinel IPS's data.

The older, more rudimentary Kovter ransomware was spotted as well, 95% of the time in the state & local government and education networks.

Tim Francis, cyber enterprise lead at Travelers, says it's no surprise that ransomware is on the rise, nor that state and local governments are becoming a big target for it. "What we saw CryptoLocker do a couple of years ago … was fairly game-changing," Francis says. "Prior attacks, were [typically]  an individual singular attack at a time. CryptoLocker obviously changed that" with its massive botnet infrastructure and ability to hit multiple targets, he says.

State and local municipalities are often cobbling together different systems with few security resources, so it makes them more vulnerable to ransomware attacks, he says.

"If I'm an SMB," he says, "a class action or other lawsuit is something I'd be worried about if it's significantly expensive. That could cause me to have to close my doors."

Cyber-extortion is becoming part of some cyber insurance policies, he says.

Another big and well-known malware annoyance, BrowseFox, was found on 67% of education networks and 23% of state and local government networks, amassing some 1.3 million alerts. Gruenloh says that's a bit surprising because it's one of the easiest ones to manage and prevent. "But a lot of stuff gets inside" these smaller organizations, he says.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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