Grant helps Easthampton better detect and avoid cyberthreats

  • Karin Moyano Camihort, right, director of the Easthampton Information Technology department, and computer technician Noah DuBoff work in their office at city hall on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Karin Moyano Camihort, director of the Easthampton information technology department, and computer technician Noah DuBoff are shown in their office at City Hall on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Karin Moyano Camihort is the director of the Easthampton Information Technology department. Photographed at city hall on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A modest sign marks the office of information technology at Easthampton City Hall. Photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2022 7:37:58 PM
Modified: 1/17/2022 7:36:54 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A city employee received an email that appeared to be from a supervisor requesting that a deposit be made. As it turns out, the email was sent from a gmail address rather than a city email account. Had the employee not taken a second to pause and consider the legitimacy of the email, the city could have opened itself up to a cyberattack.

Karin Moyano Camihort, Easthampton information technology department director, said the employee’s mindful response to the email is due to some critical training that the municipal employees have received. This type of online scam is called phishing and targets people by sending an email that appears to be from a familiar source. The scams often ask consumers to provide personal identifying information.

“The employee almost followed through with the email’s requests, because it looked very real,” said Moyano Camihort. “But (they) stopped to check, which is part of their training that’s designed to help better detect and avoid cyberthreats.”

Employees have received training as part of a grant from the Municipal Cybersecurity Awareness Program. The Baker-Polito administration announced in February 2021 that Easthampton was among the recipients of a grant that allowed the city to train 70 employees. And more recently, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said the city had been notified that Easthampton had been awarded a grant for a second year in a row.

With the grant, the city is provided with licenses for end-user training, assessment and phishing simulation, procured and managed by the state’s executive office of Technology Services and Security. It is anticipated that this program will provide training for at least 60,000 municipal/school staff, according to a press release from the office.

Through comprehensive online end-user training, evaluation and threat simulation, Moyano Camihort said the city will continue to improve its overall cybersecurity posture.

“This means we’re doing everything we can to improve security and protect ourselves from attack — firewalls, anti-viruses on all of our machines, training all of our users and locking the door that contains important data with a key,” she said.

To be eligible for the grant, participating communities must demonstrate leadership buy-in, and commit to making staff available to successfully complete the program and be willing to collaborate. The time commitment for administering this program is approximately two hours per week.

In recent years, phishing attack simulators have increased. Typically, Moyano Camihort said that it costs about $20 per seat per month, and cybersecurity awareness training costs range based on features/user interaction between $18 and $30. Easthampton has around 250 users, she said.

On another occasion, an email went out to city employees that stated that there had been a significant change made to the dress code. Moyano Camihort said members of the city staff were furious.

“It was very easy for many of our staff to fall for that,” she said. “What’s great about this training is they don’t know which one is part of the (training) campaign and what’s not. And that’s how these scammers operate. They’ll trick you with emails that claim to have received a payment or even say they have your COVID-19 results.”

As part of the program, participants are tracked on who clicks on emails and who doesn’t. Initially, some staff members were nervous about the training because “no one wanted to be the one that clicks a link that brings the city’s system down,” said Moyano Camihort. However, since going through the training, many have started coming to her office and ask if an email is real or not, and even passed on what they’ve learned to friends and family.

The state’s award is part of a multi-pronged plan to build formal information technology infrastructure, provide granular data for secure public operations and access to all of Easthampton’s departments. Moyano Camihort, who started last year, is part of the city’s two-person Information Technology Department that includes Noah DuBoff, a computer technician.

When she first started, Moyano Camihort said that Easthampton had a cyberattack from HAFNIUM that she helped thwart. HAFNIUM targets U.S. industries, including infectious disease researchers, law firms and higher education institutions, and has previously compromised victims by exploiting vulnerabilities in internet-facing servers, she said. Once they’ve gained access to a victim’s network, HAFNIUM “exfiltrates data” to file-sharing sites.

Moyano Camihort said the training has been so successful that she hopes to continue it every year as cybersecurity continues to evolve.

“I am excited. Increasing cyber security awareness is the best way of preventing a security breach,” she said. “We want our residents to know that we are committed to ensuring the safety of our data and systems. Thanks to a second-year grant award, everyone in City Hall continues to stay current on cyber security, being better prepared to defend Easthampton from data breaches and malware attacks.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com
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