Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County could sport a new domain name with a .gov account under new rules permitted by the federal government aimed at tightening cybersecurity, officials said Tuesday.

Jason Emery, the county's director of technology, said Missoula County attempted to secure a .gov account several years ago, though it wasn't permitted to use the domain. Instead, it has been using a .us domain for its website and email accounts.

But now, Emery said there's been a change in thinking as cybersecurity risks increase with bad actors at play.

“At the time, in 2014, they (feds) were unwilling to give any more of those .gov domains out,” Emery said. “There's been a shift in that mentality. The feds would like all government entities in the U.S. to have a .gov email and domain registration, mostly for cybersecurity.”

While the change may be relatively unnoticeable, Emery said it will help provide more security to those sending and receiving emails. To secure the domain, the county must send a written request to .Gov Domain Registration in Virginia.

If and when the account is approved, Emery said it's not yet known when the county will make the official switch from its .us domain to the .gov account.

“I don't know when or if we'll actually make use of it, but we'll at least own it,” he said. “If we think strategically down the road that it makes sense to transition the county to .gov registration, we'll have the ability to do it. It would become our new name space for Missoula County websites and email.”

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency began overseeing the .gov domain in 2021. At the time, the agency said “using .gov and increasing trust that government communications are authentic will improve our collective cybersecurity.”

The agency said a .gov domain also provides security benefits like two-factor authentication on the .gov registrar, and it added that “We'll endeavor to make the (Top Level Domain) more secure for the American public and harder for malicious actors to impersonate.”

Emery said other government entities may also qualify for the new domain, including the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority.

“It's my understanding all those political subdivisions are eligible for this,” he said. “It's recommended under the current thought, and it would be worth doing. It doesn't cost anything and there's no administrative overhead for owning it.”