Laptops that the UK government gave to vulnerable primary and secondary school children to study at home may have been infected with a variant of the Gamarue.l worm. This virus allows malicious people to install other malware such as spyware.
According to The Telegraph, these are laptops from the company XMA, which would supply 95,449 laptops to students. It is unclear whether all of this company’s laptops are infected with the virus. The newspaper states that several schools across the United Kingdom are reporting the infected laptops, including Bradford in West Yorkshire and a school in Lincolnshire. At the schools that report the infected laptops, ten percent of the laptops are said to have the virus. It is not known whether any children have received the infected laptops.
Microsoft first spoke about the Gamarue worm in 2012, which is spread via email spam or infected USB sticks. The virus communicates with mainly Russian servers and can download and install other viruses. A variant of this malware was previously used in a botnet that was brought down in 2017, which distributed the ransomware Petya and Cerber, among others. According to Bleeping Computer, the virus has support for a keylogger and rootkit, among other things, and can take control of infected devices via a Teamviewer plugin.
The UK Department of Education tells BBC News it is investigating the issue. The ministry does not believe that there are many infected laptops in circulation. The distributed laptops are part of a UK government program to provide vulnerable children who are homeschooled due to the coronavirus with the equipment to do so. This includes primary school students and students in the last two years of secondary school. In total, the government wants to distribute 1.3 million laptops, now more than 800,000 laptops have been distributed.