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Most RI municipalities don’t use secure ‘.gov’ website

Target 12

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A majority of municipal websites in Rhode Island have not switched to a .gov URL, a Target 12 analysis found, leading to concerns from cyber experts.

The analysis found 23 municipalities use .com or .org for their domain suffix, while 16 communities use a .gov URL. A .gov domain is only available to municipalities through the federal government, making them much more safe and secure, the experts said.

“It’s very easy for an impostor to pretend to be a government agency when they are really not,” said John Alfred, a cyber expert who works as an adjunct instructor at Salve Regina University.

That’s exactly what happened in East Providence, where city employees recently received emails purportedly from Mayor Roberto DaSilva, but which were actually sent from phishing accounts.

Two of the emails provided to Target 12 listed DaSilva in the “from” field, but came from Gmail accounts with different names. One email claims DaSilva needs help buying a gift for someone. The other asks the recipient if they are available to discuss COVID-19 testing.

“I’ve had employees call me up, ‘Hey mayor, I got that email from you I am getting ready to buy it,'” DaSilva said in an interview with Target 12. “‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, what are you talking about?'”

Kelly Ahrens, the city’s director of technology, said the phishing emails were one reason East Providence officials opted to switch from a .org to a .gov domain.

“Email is a door into an organization, and it is a public door,” Ahrens said. “It is one of the ways they can get at us and that is to entice us to click on something, download it onto our systems there for exploiting our networks.”

“I don’t want any of my constituents saying, ‘Hey I just got an email from Mayor DaSilva,’ but it is a .com or it’s a .org or something else,” DaSilva said. “I want them to know, ‘Hey, it is an official email from him.'”

Anyone can get their hands on a .com or .org website, Alfred explained, since those domains can be bought on the open market, while a .gov website is verified and managed at the federal level.

Cities and towns can apply for a .gov domain name through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, also known as CISA. The agency used to charge $400 for cities and towns to make the switch, but started waiving the fee in April.

“It gives people the understanding that this is a safe place to go to get information and it’s also important from the government’s side so they can provide information to the communities that they control,” Alfred explained.

Below are the Rhode Island cities and towns with .gov websites:

Below are the Rhode Island cities and towns that do not yet use .gov websites:

An earlier version of this story misstated Newport’s website URL.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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