What U.S. cities are most prone to malware infections, and why?

Trying to figure out what makes some cities more prone to malware infection than others.

U.S. cities with highest rates of malware computer viruses fraud identity theft
Credit: EFF-Graphics, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An anti-malware vendor has released a list of the 20 most infected cities around the U.S. in terms of malware, and the trend appears to be that cities not known for being technology centers are getting hit the hardest.

Enigma Software, which develops the SpyHunter anti-spyware detection software, analyzed more than 25 million different infections on computers in the 150 largest cities in the U.S. and found 2015 was a big year for malware over prior years.

Enigma came about its numbers via customers who have its software installed on their machines. The national average was 8.1%, meaning nationwide, but that comes from the number of infections divided by the city's entire population.

Patrick Morganelli, senior vice president of technology at Enigma Software, was at a loss to explain the trends.

"I wish there was an easy way to determine what makes people in one area more susceptible to malware infections," he said. "But there are so many different ways that infections can end up on computers that it's tough to make any generalizations about why certain folks in certain cities seem to have more than others."

A part of me thinks that the top 20 cities are not centers of tech activity like the Silicon Valley, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA and Austin, TX, where you have a large population of people who know to keep their systems patched, have an anti-virus program, don't click on unreliable links, and so forth.

Just look at the top five: Little Rock, Tampa, St. Louis, Orlando and Denver. My theory kind of falls apart with a few of the cities on the list, though. Nearby to Tampa is Clearwater, which has several software firms. So you'd think people there would know better. But the infection rate in Tampa was 14 times that of the average infection rate in the top 150 cities. Tampa was more than eight times the average.

Plus, there is at least one major tech center on the list: Irvine, CA. Irvine is the heart of the southern California Silicon Valley no one seems to want to talk about. It's home to giants like Broadcom, Western Digital, Vizio, and Blizzard Entertainment, plus a lot of smaller firms. But it made the list, too.

What's really peculiar is the wild swings. Little Rock went from No. 10 on the list in 2014 to No. 1 on the list one year later. Buffalo was the biggest mover, jumping 29 spots in one year from No. 47 to No. 18.

One of the most common ways malware infections end up on computers is from sites that contain infected content or that ask users to download files that contain infected content. Many of those sites are adult-oriented sites that pull off all kinds of scams for the naïve and uninformed: asking you to download an "update" to your browser or a special video player to watch adult videos. Common sense should tell you not to do it, but common sense often isn't very common.

There's also a lot of malware being delivered via email and people clicking on unknown links. Enigma Software reported that on each of the last three Cyber Mondays, infections spiked 40%.

Below is a list of the top 20 cities with the most infections per capita, along with how much higher their infection rate was compared to the national average.

  1. Little Rock 1,412% higher than the national average
  2. Tampa 842% higher than the national average
  3. St. Louis 692% higher than the national average
  4. Orlando 685% higher than the national average
  5. Denver 612% higher than the national average
  6. Atlanta 576% higher than the national average
  7. Newark 449% higher than the national average
  8. Salt Lake City 421% higher than the national average
  9. Madison 370% higher than the national average
  10. Cleveland 349% higher than the national average
  11. Cincinnati 331% higher than the national average
  12. Washington, DC 329% higher than the national average
  13. Miami 228% higher than the national average
  14. Irvine, CA 211% higher than the national average
  15. Raleigh 207% higher than the national average
  16. Minneapolis 198% higher than the national average
  17. Pittsburgh 188% higher than the national average
  18. Buffalo 182% higher than the national average
  19. Richmond, VA 170% higher than the national average
  20. Boise 170% higher than the national average
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