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Lake Washington schools are dealing with a nasty computer virus that’s affecting student laptops. Photo courtesy of Flickr user IntelFreePress.

The laptops issued to students in the Lake Washington School District were supposed to accelerate learning, but now a nasty computer virus spreading everywhere is disrupting class and costing the district money.

The district has spent more than one month fighting off something called the Goblin virus. It comes from downloaded malware via the internet and spreads easily from computer to computer.

The virus is affecting not only high school and middle school students who received a laptop for the first time this year, but also devices at the district office and elementary schools.

That’s 50 schools and more than 25,000 computers. And here’s the ironic thing about it: The Lake Washington School District comprises the cities of Kirkland and Redmond, the latter, of course, being the hometown of Microsoft. Those laptops are all running on PCs with Windows 7.

“We know we were in for a long haul when one of our parents who works at Microsoft told us that the virus was ‘an extremely sophisticated one,’ when he heard the name of the virus,” said district spokeswoman Kathryn Reith.

The problem with the virus is that it’s much more damaging than clicking on a bad link; the Goblin works through executable files and networks. Once in the system, it’s difficult to get it out.

The district had to hire five temporary IT staff members to suppress the virus (Couldn’t some of the kids just call on their Microsoft parents to help out?). Reith said that they still do not know where the virus came from and are waiting for a root-cause analysis from their antivirus software provider.

Students and teachers are doing their best to make do without the laptops.

“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.”

It’s nice that students can be more engaged with education on electronic devices, but instances like this reinforce the importance of online and offline security. The district has done basic internet safety instruction and gave out laptop handbooks to students and parents. They also had enterprise antivirus software from Sophos set up before the outbreak and used web filters and firewalls.

But after the Goblin, they’re now instituting mandatory scans of all computers at high traffic times. The district is also now upgrading its network firewall and putting in more reports and alerts.

And for those wondering, the district went with PCs over Macs for several reasons: the proximity of Microsoft HQ, the company’s involvement in supporting local and national education and last but not least — especially for a school district — cost.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:05 p.m. with information from the district.

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