The Department for Education (DfE) said it believes the issue has only affected a ‘small number of devices’.
Child using a laptop
An investigation has been launched into reports that some of the laptops handed out to vulnerable children for homeschooling are infected with malware.
According to an online forum, teachers from a school in Bradford, Yorkshire 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.
City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council confirmed to the PA news agency that it alerted schools via email as soon as it became aware of the problem.
Gamarue.I, identified by Microsoft in 2012, is a worm capable of downloading files onto 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 number of schools that have reported the issue are in single figures, according to the Department for Education (DfE).
All Windows devices are said to arrive with virus defender software already installed, which should destroy the virus during the set up process.
“We have been investigating an issue with malware that was found on a small number of the laptops provided to schools as part of our Get Help With Technology programme,” a spokesperson said.
“In all known cases, the malware was detected and removed at the point schools first turned the devices on.
“We take online safety and security extremely seriously and we will continue to monitor for any further reports of malware. Any schools that may have concerns should contact the Department for Education.”
The Government has committed to giving 1.3 million laptops and tablets to poorer children during lockdown, with more than 800,000 of these delivered already.
Labour’s shadow education secretary Kate Green, called reports “deeply concerning” and said Education Secretary Gavin Williamson must decide if “he is going to put in place a credible plan for children to learn at home, or if he will just tell the Russian server to go away and shut up”.
Brian Higgins, 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.”