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Universities Schooled By Malware: Higher Ed Networks 300 Percent More Infected

New data shows higher-education networks harbor massively more malware than enterprises and government nets

That universities suffer more malware infections than enterprises and government agencies should come as no surprise, but new data shows they are a whopping 300 percent more likely to house malware in their networks than networks in the commercial or public sector.

Research from OpenDNS's Umbrella Security Labs found that colleges and universities in the U.S. and Europe are that much more infected than the business or government space, based on data gathered from OpenDNS's network of 50 million users worldwide.

"That [percentage] was somewhat of a surprise to us," says Dan Hubbard, CTO of OpenDNS and head of Umbrella Security Labs. "You always hear about universities being more open than regular corporations and organizations, but these numbers were a little higher than we expected."

Higher-education networks also are targeted most by the so-called EXPIRO malware, a file-infecting family that has been around since around 2010. According to OpenDNS, EXPIRO typically infects local, removable, and network drives, and installs malicious extensions for Chrome and Firefox. It steals stored certificates and passwords from IE, Microsoft Outlook, and FTP client FileZilla.

Infected machines redirect to a malicious URL and can steal online banking credentials and other information. The malware also can disable Windows security on the infected machine.

So why is EXPIRO the BMOC -- big malware on campus? "It's hard to tell what they are after. There are multiple variants of EXPIRO," Hubbard says. It can be used to steal usernames, passwords, and Web history, for instance, he says. "That user information is wrapped in a DLL and is sent back to a [command-and-control] in an encrypted file," says Hubbard, who notes that EXPIRO has been spotted using exploit kits such as Blackhole.

EXPIRO malware is typically spread via infected websites, either drive-by attacks or via a phishing email URL lure. The infected website typically hosts a Java or Adobe PDF exploit, which once installed steals user and system information.

The big problem on university campus networks, of course, is that they are, by nature, open, and IT doesn't manage each student's client device. "These are unmanaged networks for the most part," Hubbard says. Even so, universities can establish basic security best practices to minimize infections, he says.

OpenDNS recommends that colleges alert their users of new spear-phishing campaigns targeting their institution, and that they employ predictive analysis to prevent waterholing or malvertising attacks. OpenDNS also suggests using DNS-based enforcement to stop infected machines from communicating to botnet operators over non-Web connections.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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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