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Malware found on laptops given to UK schoolkids

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Golden Sikorka)

Laptops given to school children by the UK government have been found to contain Russian spyware, according to a BBC (opens in new tab) report. The matter is currently being “urgently investigated”, and those affected are advised to seek professional assistance.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sent the country into a third lockdown, and schools have been forced to shift teaching online. Since not all pupils can afford a computer, the government has donated 800,000 devices to those that need them.

However, a selection of computers that were handed out came with a nasty surprise: the Gamarue.I worm (opens in new tab), first spotted by Microsoft back in 2012. The worm is classic spyware, harvesting browsing data and sensitive information such as banking details. It appears to be Russian, given that it communicates with a command and control server in Russia.

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said it was believed that the spyware was not widespread, but instead found only on a “handful” of devices:

"Upon unboxing and preparing them, it was discovered that a number of the laptops were infected with a self-propagating network worm (opens in new tab)," wrote Marium Haque, Deputy Director of Education and Learning at Bradford Council.

If nothing else, schools should check their networks as a precaution, she added.

Information security consultant Paul Moore told the BBC that users should reboot their devices into safe mode and then run a full antivirus scan. "However with this type of malware, it is advisable to seek professional assistance in order to ensure it has been correctly removed."

Sead Fadilpašić is a freelance tech writer and journalist with more than 17 years experience writing technology-focussed news, blogs, whitepapers, reviews, and ebooks. And his work has featured in online media outlets from all over the world, including Al Jazeera Balkans (where he was a Multimedia Journalist), Crypto News, TechRadar Pro, and IT Pro Portal, where he has written news and features for over five years. Sead's experience also includes writing for inbound marketing, where he creates technology-based content for clients from London to Singapore. Sead is a HubSpot-certified content creator.