Russia linked malware found on laptops given to children by government

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Some of the laptops given out in England to support vulnerable children home-schooling during lockdown contain Russia linked malware, according to BBC News

Teachers shared details on an online forum about suspicious files found on devices sent to a Bradford school.

The malware, which they said appeared to be contacting Russian servers, is believed to have been found on laptops given to a handful of schools.

A DfE official told BBC News: “We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices. And we are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

“DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue.”

“We believe this is not widespread.”

According to the forum, the Windows laptops contained Gamarue.I, a worm identified by Microsoft in 2012.

One teacher said that around 20 per cent of the computers they had been sent had the virus, with IT administrators recommending that networks be checked “as an added precaution”, according to the Telegraph.

“This is beyond belief. Will Gavin Williamson be coming up with a credible plan to keep children learning, or will he just tell the Russian server to go away and shut up?”, tweeted Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green.  

The government has so far sent schools more than 800,000 laptops, as it tries to distribute more than a million devices to disadvantaged pupils who may not have access at home. However, it has been roundly criticised about both the quality of the laptops and the time it takes to receive them.

Commenting on the issue, Sam Curry, chief security officer at Cybereason, says:

“While specific details are scant, it would appear the laptops in question are refurbished which increases the chances of viruses or malware being present from the previous owners. Getting to the bottom of where the worm originated from is highly unlikely.

“The good news is the Department of Education doesn’t believe it is a widespread problem, which eliminates it being part of a malicious attempt to spy on school students or disrupt the education process. The safest way to ensure students received a bug-free laptop would have been to wipe the hard drives, essentially starting from scratch by removing existing files and doing a complete reinstall on every machine.

“However, this requires time, money and patience. To reduce the overall risk to students the Department of Education should be putting security parameters in place to prevent them from downloading games, other apps and other unnecessary programs that could come from untrustworthy websites and sources and be laced with viruses or malware.”

Chris Price
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