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Virus Eats School District's Homework 321

Posted by samzenpus
from the will-this-be-on-the-test? dept.
theodp writes "Forget about 'snow days' — the kids in the Lake Washington School District could probably use a few 'virus days.' Laptops issued to each student in grades 6-12 were supposed to accelerate learning ('Schools that piloted the laptops found that students stayed engaged nad [sic] organized whiel [sic] boosting creativity,' according to the district's Success Stories), but GeekWire reports that a computer virus caused havoc for the district as it worked its way through the Windows 7 computers, disrupting class and costing the district money — five temporary IT staff members were hired to help contain the virus. Among the reasons cited for the school district's choice of PCs over Macs were the proximity to Microsoft HQ (Redmond is in the district), Microsoft's involvement in supporting local and national education, and last but not least, cost. In the past, the Lake Washington School District served as a Poster Child of sorts for Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group."
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Virus Eats School District's Homework

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  • by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:09AM (#42127903)
    Looks like the school district leaned a valuable lesson ... oh wait!
    • ... all the while trying to save "cost" :-)
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        ... all the while trying to save "cost" :-)

        I'm not sure how it would have cost them any less if they'd have gone with an Apple-branded OS. Or even Linux for that matter.
        Despite what the summary and school says, technically this was a Trojan which drops a backdoor into the system. It's been detectable by all the major AV software vendors for a very long time, the earliest variants were from back in the old DOS days.

        Since the school can't even manage to spell properly, I'm going to assume that what happened was something like this:
        Child A: "I heard t

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by somersault (912633)

          It would have cost them less, because they'd have been a lot less likely to even come across a trojan compatible with their system.

          "I can't get it to install"..? You mean people don't know how to click "run" or "ok" or whatever UAC says?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Joce640k (829181)

          "Here's how to make the warning go away."

          If only it were that difficult.

          I got a virus last week because I was trying to install MS antivirus on a machine. Microsoft Security Essentials requires a WGA check and it failed for some reason (don't know why - it was a perfectly legal machine).

          Anyway, I went to Google to see if I could find a workaround and ... the very first page I visited installed a virus on the machine. No warnings, no permissions asked for. Some system dialog or other flashed up then ten seco

          • What browser were you using? I install Chrome before I go searching for things like anti-virus :p

          • Are you sure that wasnt a popup crafted to look like a non-browser window? That is a very common method of enticing people to click on them, and to run the files it downloads.

            Alternatively, perhaps you should visit the Mozilla Plugin Check:
            https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/plugincheck/ [mozilla.org]

            If you truly got a driveby virus, your plugins are out of date, or your browser is. For the record, this is easily possible on Linux and OSX as well (and has been demonstraded before, and each year at Pwn2Own).

            • by GodInHell (258915)
              Say it with me now: "I, [state your name] do hereby swear that I will install NoScript or an equivalent tool on my PC before browsing porn."
          • Parent used IE to surf the web, clearly.

        • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @08:04AM (#42128345)

          "I'm not sure how it would have cost them any less if they'd have gone with an Apple-branded OS. Or even Linux for that matter."

          Just a wild stab in dark but perhaps they wouldn't have ended up with a trojan on all their systems because OS/X and Linux have better security.

          • But where is the Linux Trustworthy Computing initiative? You see...
        • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

          Why do kids have permission to install anything on a school PC? Hell, why are they even allowed to download executables? Someone failed at setting these computers up properly, that's for sure. For a school PC they don't even need Java or Flash (if they really need Youtube, enable HTML5 video) or Acrobat Reader (get a less common PDF reader).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LordLimecat (1103839)

        The premise-- that Macs somehow are immune to viruses-- is utterly ridiculous. Was everyone sleeping when each of the last several years' Pwn2Owns resulted in OSX falling first (I think that this year they did better)? Was everyone sleeping when Flashback hit and everyone was astonished that OSX has bugs just like every other computer program on the planet?

        If they had a rampant virus despite having antivirus and filters, then I know several things: They were granting admin privileges to the users and / or

        • The premise-- that Macs somehow are immune to viruses-- is utterly ridiculous.

          You know, there are other OSes out there than just Windows and MacOS... So the rest all falls down from this...

          And I don't need to worry whether the fire extinguisher that I keep next to my bed is still current on its inspections, and all that other complicated stuff, because I simply don't smoke in bed.

        • laptops not desktops so you need a managed wifi system with more then 1 AP.

          and even then the systems use NON school AP's as well.

          Also virus can pass though email and web uploading of school work / over usb key as well.

          Let's see there a virus so trun off the web site / email and have the kids use usb keys to trun in there work.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:13AM (#42127917) Journal

    There once was this thing, the "trustworty computing" pledge. [theregister.co.uk]

    What happened to that?

  • And Linux? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Arrepiadd (688829) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:17AM (#42127931)

    Among the reasons cited for the school district's choice of PCs over Mac's were (...) cost.

    And yet Linux was never an option? Avoided Apple to reduce the cost and ended up hiring 5 people to contain the damage that came as a consequence of their choice... way to go!

    • by aliquis (678370)

      ^ What I wanted to say.

      Sure they shouldn't buy macs. But if they worry about viruses they don't need to get Windows machines just because of that.

      Also is it really that hard to keep a Windows machine free of viruses? All the kids installed the same crap?

      • by erroneus (253617)

        It is a bit hard. Not for me... not for people with self control and a little understanding of what goes on out there. The weak link is humans.

        But that said, there is some blame in the design of Windows. I think the Apache web server needs to be stripped of its name to have it awarded to Windows. I think it might make Windows cooler somehow.

        People want to claim there is no original code from DOS/Windows in the current versions of Windows. That may be true. Part of the problem is design. It still harb

        • by Quietust (205670)
          What you've said is certainly true... for Windows 95/98/Me, which were indeed built on top of Windows 3.1 and MS-DOS and not properly designed to be multi-user. If you think Windows 7 falls under that same category, you are sadly mistaken - that traces back not to 16-bit Windows 3.1 but to 32-bit Windows NT 3.1, which was designed to be multi-user (and even multi-CPU) from the very beginning.
        • Part of the problem is design. It still harbors the design of a single user, single tasking OS which was added upon for more than a decade of incremental changes, patches and fearure improvements, one after the other after the other. It's amazing it's not messier than it already is.

          [citation needed]. Where do you see a design of single user/single tasking OS?

          Microsoft didn't have a plan in mind for Windows when it created DOS. It didn't even have Windows95 in mind when it created Windows 3. It's all a pile on top of a pile on top of a pile.

          That may be so. But current Windows is not built upon any of those. The current strain of Windows is built upon Windows NT, which *was* a clean-room implementation of Windows. It has *nothing* to do with DOS, Windows 3 or Windows 9x/ME, except that it has a compatibility subsystem for running legacy applications.

          Windows NT was always a multi-user and network-aware OS. From the very start. Unlike Unix and Linux which were designed

      • Incompatibility with 99% of all software, including viruses, is not a feature.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Having an IT staff for a program this big is pretty much a necessity which they should have thought of before launching it.

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        From the way the summary is written ("temporary IT staff members") I make up they have a permanent IT staff of more than one already.

        • Re:And Linux? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by BVis (267028) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @11:15AM (#42129869)

          Unlikely. As with everything in modern American public education (well, anything in a major American organization, public or otherwise), decisions are made based on how little something costs RIGHT NOW as opposed to how much it will cost in the long run, and any attempt to build infrastructure to support a new initiative is met with "that's so much money, we'll just cross that bridge when we come to it if it's a problem." Handing out tens of thousands of Windows-based laptops (especially with Redmond's subsidy for OS cost) may be cheaper up-front, but bringing in that many laptops requires substantial infrastructure to handle the 'side benefits' of Windows, namely the need for strong antivirus solutions and the most restrictive group policies that are possible that still allow the students to log into their laptops. I can guarantee you that at one point as this program was being developed the following conversation, or one very much like it, happened:

          Tech: "We need to take security measure X, because Y."
          Suit: "How likely is Y to happen?"
          Tech: "Hard to say, exactly, but it's possible, so we should do X. It will require additional effort Z, but it's a fair trade."
          Suit: "And how much will Z cost us?"
          Tech: "Well, it will probably generate additional help desk traffic."
          Suit: "Work around it, help desk traffic costs money."
          Tech: "If we do that, and Y happens, the entire network could be trashed and we'll have to hire (expensive) additional staff to fix things, and we could potentially be down for weeks or months."
          Suit: "Ehh, that'll probably never happen. Do the workaround."

          I'm guessing in this case the students were required to have privileged accounts on their laptops because of shitty software that doesn't install correctly in userland.

        • If they have any IT staff at all, they should be fired for incompetence. If they don't have any IT staff, the administrators should be fired for incompetence. Either way, someone should be fired for incompetence.

          I work for a school district, in IT, and we don't let users have the ability to install anything. Period. A properly managed system, means that you have all the tools in place to get systems functioning without users needing Admin level (UAC or otherwise) access. Problem is, schools cry poverty when

    • Cost != Purchase price.
    • I heard that if you buy a Mac, Ballmer comes to your house and dances the Developer dance in your garden. If you install linux, he dances naked.

      Please think of your neighbors, install Windows.

      On a more serious note, this was a MS project, MS is not going to install linux... well except for when they need a reliable stable server platform to host a project.

  • Oh really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Robert Zenz (1680268) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:29AM (#42127971) Homepage

    ...and last but not least, cost.

    Wait...Windows 7-Ready hardware, Windows 7 Licensing Costs AND 5 additional IT-employees and they choose Microsoft because "it costs less"?! I seriously need to get a job in the public sector, seems like they can jack off all day or something.

    • Re:Oh really? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:57AM (#42128075)

      ...and last but not least, cost.

      Wait...Windows 7-Ready hardware, Windows 7 Licensing Costs AND 5 additional IT-employees and they choose Microsoft because "it costs less"?! I seriously need to get a job in the public sector, seems like they can jack off all day or something.

      Uh, you forgot about the part where Redmond is in this district. Chances are all licensing costs were either eliminated or heavily subsidized for education. And Windows 7 "Ready" hardware? Please. That's a $250 i3 with 2GB of RAM in a school budget. Why do you think the PCs are running like frozen dogshit when infected. Nothing in the Apple store is that cheap, or that slow.

    • Re:Oh really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thoth (7907) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @09:59AM (#42129175) Journal

      Wait...Windows 7-Ready hardware, Windows 7 Licensing Costs AND 5 additional IT-employees and they choose Microsoft because "it costs less"?! I seriously need to get a job in the public sector, seems like they can jack off all day or something.

      I know it is fashionable to rail on government spending as wasteful in all circumstances, but this attitude always pisses me off.
      For every government project that goes over-budget or delayed, there is a corporation happily cashing the checks and under-delivering. That's where the problem is.

  • by ipquickly (1562169) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:33AM (#42127987) Homepage

    Just imagine how many new IT jobs this would create.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2012 @07:10AM (#42128137)
      The broken Windows fallacy?
      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by ipquickly (1562169)

        The broken Windows fallacy?

        5 hired IT staff that would have been unnecessary had the school used Linux or Mac say so.

        • by Albinoman (584294)

          You can really believe that hiring 5 *temporary* employees to clean up a mess and give some advice costs more than the price difference between a mac (which wouldn't have necessarily fixed this, and mac techs probably cost more) and pc times, what, thousands of laptops?

        • by fatphil (181876)
          In my experience (mostly big IT companies), the number of windows admins required is nearly 4 times the number of unix admins required, for the same number of desktop machines.

          An extreme example was the last job I had, where there was a typical level of windows admins, and there were zero unix admins. Everyone was given a machine with a blank hard drive, and told on their first day to install whatever OS/distro they wanted, and were comfortably running themselves. I guess a third went debian, a third ubuntu
    • by coofercat (719737)

      Did they ask the kids to help them sort it out?

      I know times have changed since I was a nipper, but at my school, there were probably 3 of the kids + 0 staff who knew the BBC + echonet system really well. I seem to remember one kid hacking it to within an inch of it's life then writing a report on "security" so he didn't get expelled for it. Anyway... my point is, the kids may know how to fix this better than these drongo staff members they hired (heck, the kids may have done it in the first place, so they'd

  • You can't just put "[sic]" next to any random string of characters and expect the reader to understand. What the hell is "whiel boosting creativity" supposed to mean, anyway? Maybe I'm slow this morning, but it took me 5 minutes to see the "while". Brackets can help readers stay engaged [and] informed [while] improving understanding, but this time they failed us.

  • The real problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bensw (2757251) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @06:51AM (#42128053)

    Among other things, TFA implies that this is because they were using 'PCs instead of Macs' [sic].

    While it's true that OSX has way less malware than Windows, the main cause of malware infections is the users who click anything that's offered to them without thinking.
    You can hide behind less popular operating systems, but the sad truth is that the average computer user simply can't handle the freedom of being able to do whatever they want, without messing things up.

    So the solution is better tech education or--the cheaper way--locking things down. Both MS and Apple are doing it in their mobile OSs and they're starting to implement this in their desktop OSs as well.

    Of course, the IT could also have locked Windows down with Group Policy and SRP, so that it would be pretty much impossible to install anything (unless reinstalling the OS).
    Instead, they relied on some crappy antivirus (Sophos) and I wouldn't be surprised if the users were given admin rights as well.

    I'm not a Microsoft fan at all (and they might have played dirty to get the school to use Windows), but the real story here is IT staff incompetence and the poor education of the average computer user.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      "but the sad truth is that the average computer user simply can't handle the freedom of being able to do whatever they want, without messing things up."

      The Sad truth is people actually believe you need to allow a user to anything they want. You dont. It's school property, you restrict your users to only what they need the devices for, anything else is simply incompetence.

      • by MeNeXT (200840)

        "but the sad truth is that the average computer user simply can't handle the freedom of being able to do whatever they want, without messing things up."

        The Sad truth is people actually believe you need to allow a user to anything they want. You dont. It's school property, you restrict your users to only what they need the devices for, anything else is simply incompetence.

        The user needs to be sandboxed and he can do whatever he likes including install a virus without affecting the system. Sure he destroys his files if he is not careful but he does not destroy the system and he does not destroy the backups.

        Limiting a computer in this situation would limit education. Users don't need to run any software above their privileges including IE and Office.

    • by hweimer (709734)

      While it's true that OSX has way less malware than Windows, the main cause of malware infections is the users who click anything that's offered to them without thinking.

      No. Any system that can be botched more or less accidentally is a complete failure. While GNU/Linux and to a lesser extent OS X are far from perfect, they make it considerably harder to run untrusted code, simply because this is an operation typically not needed during daily use.

    • Don't blame them, blame the software.
  • by Nyder (754090) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @07:04AM (#42128117) Journal

    Viruses are easy to take out of the system, but that doesn't stop the same behavior that puts the virus there in the first place.

    Example: A friend of mine I end up fixing his laptop for viruses usually gets them because his kids are looking for TV shows and gets sent to sites that want them to download something. Boom, infected. Looking for a youtube/Disney/Hulu video downloading, boom! Infected.

    I don't care too much because I get paid. And getting rid of the viruses/whatever is as easy as taking the harddrive out of the computer and hooking it to an already running computer (via usb-ide/sata adaptor), and run a few programs. Takes a few hours, or more depending on the size of the harddrive and how much space is taken up. But very, very easy to fix.

    • by krenaud (1058876) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @07:39AM (#42128245)
      I have given my kids restricted user accounts on their Windows computers and so far they haven't managed to infect the computers. Setting up a Windows machine with restricted accounts, Foxit reader as PDF reader, Chrome as web browser and flash block plugin installed has done the trick for me so far. For the same price as a Mac I get a PC + iPad + spare change.
    • I take it you don't believe in the existence of malware that can over-write the BIOS?

    • From reading a quick description on how the virus works... This school seems to have no fucking clue what AD/GPO/LUA means. It sounds like the notebooks can either copy files to each other over the network or students can copy .exe's to the network servers. Fail 1. It also sounds like the students are running without least user authorization, aka, they can get admin access to their computers easy, or they already have it. Fail 2, maybe. It could have been a teacher who got it and was allowed to write stuff

  • The virus ate my homework!
  • How about they.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @07:24AM (#42128189) Homepage

    Hire COMPETENT IT staff to begin with? Honestly, what kind of amateur hour school is this? having to hire temp IT staff to deal with it, really? how about actually staffing your departments properly and with competent staff?

    • What I find curious about a need for temp IT staff is this:

      If you are doing a deployment of that size(unless the district is a 1 room schoolhouse or something, "grades 6-12, all students" is a fair number of laptops), you will need some sort of system imaging setup, to plunk your OS and applications on new machines/machines that lost an HDD, you will need a decent number of lowish-skilled screwdriver labor to keep up with all the physical damage and parts replacements, and you will likely need some basic ne

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        Problem is most manufacturers are idiots and change models every 15 days. a stock image you make today will not work on the next batch of laptops you get.

        Second School administrators are idiots. they dont buy Business class, they buy as cheap as possible and as random as possible. So yu get craptastic Compaq laptops bought 5 at a time over the summer. now you have 30 different models and revisions. No chance in hell to make a standard image. You have to make a OEM disk that will re install everything

    • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Thursday November 29, 2012 @08:23AM (#42128447)
      Hi, school IT tech here. I'm all for a pay rise! How about we raise your taxes so I can get one? Don't like that idea, right? Maybe take some money out of health care? Sanitation? Policing?

      Yeah... I didn't think so. After four years, I make around 60% of what I would in the private sector starting wage for the same job. Guess what, though! Jobs are scarce, so I can't afford to be picky. Yes, I'm good at what I do (and I've done great things for this school), but by no means is the public sector all green fields and pork barrel funding. We're more cash-strapped than you can imagine (I'm having to buy cheaper asset labels, for pity's sake).
    • by Pollux (102520) <{ge.ten.atadet} {ta} {reteps}> on Thursday November 29, 2012 @09:19AM (#42128781) Journal

      Before we blame the IT staff, let me give this some perspective. (I have nine years experience as a teacher & tech director in a public K-12 US school.)

      First, I'm reasonably confident in saying that, if proper Group Policy was implemented and user restrictions put in place, this never would have happened. Second, this is a HUGE school district with over 50 schools. They can certainly afford a public liaison (who was speaking on behalf of the district in the local broadcast), and I'm sure they have a large IT staff...I'm guessing in the neighborhood of 20-30 employees. Though public school districts would pay less than Microsoft right next door, given the sheer numbers there must be at least a few people on that staff that know how to accomplish this and as well of its value in preventing this sort of mess from happening.

      With that in mind, here's what I've concluded: There is likely someone with leadership authority who told IT staff to let students manage their own laptops and have admin privileges. Given the size of the district, the directive either came from the district technology committee, or directly from the superintendent, school board, or both. All it would take is a number of parents to ignorantly complain to a "friend on the board" that "Johnny's laptop is broken - he can't install the programs he needs to do his homework" for the school board to direct the superintendent to "fix the issue." Likely this was a top-down order; I simply cannot imagine a tech staff that large to be that incompetent on their own.

      What bothers me about this is how they're going about trying to fix the problem. If I had a worst-case mass-deployment of a virus at my school, I would just recall all the equipment, reimage everything, and redeploy a week later. I would issue a directive to all the staff that the equipment is down for one week to be cleaned, and make due without it. It's either one week of downtime or months of unreliability. If teachers would know that they have the option of either the problem being fixed in a week or the problem being "managed" over months, they would all take the week's downtime in a heartbeat.

      One other question I have for those here: have you ever encountered a Windows virus that, as they claim, just "spreads on the network" without user initiation of the virus by clicking on an executable, script, or loading an infected webpage? I think the much more likely scenario is that this virus is being spread through usb flash disks, but I'm not sure whether that explanation was too technical for staff to understand.

  • ...is not leaded by logic, but by "evil you know" decision chain. Therefore no matter how many homeworks Windows will eat, it will stay.

  • Just like that time I caught a cold from being around people, then I moved to Antarctica and stopped being around people. No more colds! Hah!
  • “As far as learning time, we aren’t losing any,” Reith said. “We still have about 90 percent of our equipment up and running. Teachers are being flexible with what tools they use and how they approach a particular lesson.”

    Translating from media hype: someone did something foolish on a computer, then got a new virus which spread quickly, but it hasn't been the end of the world. In fact, it seems contained. Weird how it's the worst possible virus. Funny how this just happened to

  • "low cost". Maintaining a MS OS is only "low cost" if you have someone who will do it for free- i.e. you're the family geek, keeping the wife and kid's computers working so they can enjoy compatibility with systems at school and work.

    I subscribe to the "conspiracy theory" of MS OSes. They are deliberately unreliable and insecure in order to keep an army of IT people employed fixing them. The army continues to support and specify MS OSes because they know they'll have years of bugs, security problems, and

  • The geek kicks off on stories like these.

    But a small word of caution: LWSD has a very good reputation

    Lake Washington School District named to AP District Honor Roll [kirklandreporter.com]

    Among the more than 900 U.S. and international middle school students invited to the ceremony on the Johns Hopkins University campus, all earned exceptionally high scores that place them well within the top one-half of one percent academically of all same-grade students.
    Past participants in the CTY Talent Search include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google cofounder Sergey Brin, and performer Lady Gaga.

    Whiz Kid: Sammamish Middle-Schooler Kartik Iyer Honored for SAT Scores [patch.com]

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