An investigation has been launched into reports that some of the laptops handed out to vulnerable children for homeschooling in England are infected with malware.
According to an online forum, teachers from a school in Bradford noticed the issue and believe it contacts Russian servers.
“Upon unboxing and preparing them it was discovered that a number of the laptops are infected with a self-propagating network worm (Gamarue I),” the forum message says.
Gamarue I, identified by Microsoft in 2012, is a worm capable of downloading files on to a PC. According to the tech firm, it can be installed when a spam email attachment is opened and can also copy itself to any USB flash drives connected to the computer.
The Department for Education (DfE) said it was looking into the problem as a matter of urgency but did not think it was widespread. “We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices,” a spokesperson said.
“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.”
The government has committed to giving 1.3m laptops and tablets to poorer children during lockdown, with more than 800,000 of these delivered already.
Brian Higgins, a security specialist at Comparitech, said: “Whilst it is unclear where these particular laptops were sourced, it is absolutely vital that anyone seeking to source devices, whether they are bought using sponsorship or donated directly, be fully aware of the risk that they may contain dormant or active malicious software and research appropriate methods to make them safe before they are distributed to homes and families.
“The potential for malicious software to be used against recipients is not limited to the children for which the devices are intended, as access to the internet will no doubt be useful for other family and friends outside of school hours.
“I would highly recommend that anyone distributing devices include some information about online safety.”