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Silver Level Contributor

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Some of the laptops given out in England to support vulnerable children home-schooling during lockdown contain malware, BBC News has learned.

Teachers shared details on an online forum about suspicious files found on devices sent to a Bradford school.

The malware, which they said appeared to be contacting Russian servers, is believed to have been found on laptops given to a handful of schools.

The Department for Education said it was aware and urgently investigating.

A DfE official told BBC News: "We are aware of an issue with a small number of devices. And we are investigating as an urgent priority to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

"DfE IT teams are in touch with those who have reported this issue."

"We believe this is not widespread."

Geo, the firm which made the laptops, told the BBC: "We have been working closely with the Department for Education regarding a reported issue on a very small number of devices. We are providing our full support during their investigation.

"We take all matters of security extremely seriously. Any schools that have concerns should contact the Department for Education."

According to the forum, the Windows laptops contained Gamarue.I, a worm identified by Microsoft in 2012.

The government has so far sent schools more than 800,000 laptops, as it tries to distribute more than a million devices to disadvantaged pupils who may not have access at home.

"Upon unboxing and preparing them, it was discovered that a number of the laptops were infected with a self-propagating network worm," wrote Marium Haque, deputy director of Education and Learning at Bradford Council.

She recommended that schools also check their networks "as an added precaution".

Information security consultant Paul Moore told the BBC that the Gamarue worm "presents a very severe threat to any PC or network".

"Ideally users should reboot into safe mode and run a full scan with an anti-virus product," he said.

"However with this type of malware, it is advisable to seek professional assistance in order to ensure it has been correctly removed."

The malware in question installs spyware which can gather information about browsing habits, as well as harvest personal information such as banking details.

"The fact that these devices were not checked and scrubbed before being sent to vulnerable children is a concern," said George Glass, head of threat intelligence at security firm Redscan.

Originally published by
Jane Wakefield, Technology Reporter | January 22, 2021

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Silver Level Contributor

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is expected to be rolled out in the UK next week         Photo News

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has claimed Brexit allowed the UK to approve a Covid vaccine more quickly than other European Union (EU) countries.

"We do all the same safety checks and the same processes, but we have been able to speed up how they're done because of Brexit," he said in an interview with Times Radio.

And the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, tweeted: "We could only approve this vaccine so quickly because we have left the EU."

The EU - through the European Medicines Agency (EMA) - has yet to approve a coronavirus vaccine.

But the idea that Brexit enabled the UK to press ahead and authorise one is not right.

It was actually permitted under EU law, a point made by the head of the UK's medicines regulator on Wednesday.

What are EU rules on approving vaccines?

Under European law a vaccine must be authorised by the EMA, but individual countries can use an emergency procedure that allows them to distribute a vaccine for temporary use in their domestic market.

Britain is still subject to those EU rules during the post-Brexit transition period which runs until the end of the year.

The UK's own medicines regulator, the MHRA, confirmed this in a statement last month.

And its chief executive, Dr June Raine, said on Wednesday that "we have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until 1 January".

We asked Mr Rees-Mogg about his comment that: "Last month we changed the regulations so a vaccine did not need EU approval which is slower."

He replied with part of the text of an "explanatory memorandum" which accompanied new laws passed by Parliament last month.

"The regulation of human medicines is an area of shared competence between the EU and Member States under article 4 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU)," it reads.

"But in light of the EU's comprehensive exercise of the competence, Member States are precluded from exercising the competence nationally."

It is true that, in general, regulation of new medicines is done on an EU-wide basis. But that does not take account of the emergency provisions in EU law which Dr Raine refers to.

At the government briefing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was asked whether the UK's vaccine approval was down to a "Brexit bonus".

He refused to answer directly and thanked the NHS and the Vaccine Taskforce instead.

Moving faster

The MHRA is well-regarded as a world leader in the regulation of medicine, and it has certainly chosen to move faster with vaccine approval than the EMA.

"Our speed or our progress has been totally dependent on the availability of data in our rolling review, and the rigorous assessment and independent advice we have received," Dr Raine said.

But again, the MHRA didn't have to rely on Brexit to do that.

For example, the European Commission confirmed earlier this week that Hungary - an EU member - could use a Russian Covid vaccine in its domestic market if it chose to do so.

'Most appropriate'

The EMA appeared to criticise the UK approach in a statement which said it is using a slightly slower method for licensing Covid vaccines than the UK.

It considers this approach to be "the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency, to grant all EU citizens access to a vaccine and to underpin mass vaccination campaigns".

The agency said this longer process was based on a wider body of evidence. The EMA has said it will decide by 29 December whether to grant provisional approval to the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech.

EU distribution

That means distribution of the vaccine across the EU - if it is approved - won't start until January, when the relevant EU laws will no longer apply in the UK.

The government says it can be more nimble outside the EU, amidst an ongoing debate about how closely it should stick to EU regulations in all sorts of policy areas.

But the fact that the UK is the first country in the world to approve this vaccine has got nothing directly to do with Brexit.

Originally published by
BBC News | December 2, 2020


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Silver Level Contributor
PA MEDIA Demand in pubs and restaurants has collapsed after bans on households mixing were introduced in many areas

The chancellor has unveiled increased support for jobs and workers hit by Covid restrictions after growing clamour from firms in tier two areas.

Rishi Sunak announced big changes to the Job Support Scheme (JSS) - set to replace furlough in November.

He told the Commons that even businesses not forced to shut were facing "profound economic uncertainty".

Under the revised scheme, employers will pay less and staff can work fewer hours before they qualify.

At the same time, the taxpayer subsidy has been doubled.

At an afternoon news conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson thanked the chancellor for introducing measures that "will protect people's livelihoods".

But he warned that the UK would face "many thousands more deaths" if it put the economy before health.

Why is this happening?

Businesses in tier two areas, particularly in the hospitality sector, had complained that they would be better off if they were under tier three restrictions.

They argued that although they would be forced to close, they would benefit from greater government support.

One prominent chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, had said conditions for his restaurants were "terrible" since tier two restrictions were applied to London, adding: "We are on our knees now."

In response to such arguments, Mr Sunak has now changed the terms of the JSS. Referring to those businesses, he said: "It is clear that they require further economic support."

How does the new plan work in detail?

Instead of a minimum requirement of paying 55% of wages for a third of hours, as announced last month at the launch of the Winter Economic Plan, employers will have to pay for a minimum of 20% of usual hours worked, and 5% of hours not worked.

The government will now fund 62% of the wages for hours not worked. This more than doubles the maximum payment to £1,541.75 a month. In the most generous case, the taxpayer will now go from funding 22% of wages to just under half.

The scheme will, as before, be open to all small businesses and larger businesses that can show an impact on revenues.

It is aimed at addressing the gap in support for businesses in tier two restrictions, such as London and Birmingham, but is not explicitly tied to that status, and is available across the UK.


Are all small firms pleased?

Noel Hutchinson, director of Poole-based powerboat experience firm Get Lost Sailing, is one small businessman who is feeling overlooked by the new measures.

His firm is in a tier one area and so is not receiving any support, but he is seeing far fewer customers as a result of the virus.

"Whether or not businesses are in tier one, two or three, they are all being massively affected by the virus," he says.

"A hospitality and tourism business such as ours depends on out-of-town visitors and these people are no longer travelling. Our bookings have slowed massively."

Mr Hutchinson feels that a national lockdown would serve him better, since any government support would then be distributed across the country.

"It would be better for our industry if the whole country was locked down at once and every business in receipt of a fair proportion of the support packages."

How will it work outside England?

The scheme is UK-wide. However, the system of tiered restrictions in England, which gave rise to the government's newly increased economic support, is not.

While England has a three-tier system, Scotland is due to bring in a five-tier system of virus alert levels from 2 November.

The middle three will be "broadly equivalent" to the English three, but the Scottish system will add an extra tier at the bottom and one at the top.

Wales is about to enter a two-week national lockdown from 18:00 BST on Friday, while Northern Ireland began a four-week lockdown last Friday.

All the devolved nations have been promised extra central government funding so they can award grants at a local level.

Originally published by
Robert Plummer, Business Reporter, BBC News
October 22, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor



People in England should aim to wear face coverings on public transport and in some shops from Wednesday, the UK government has said.

A document outlining the new lockdown rules suggests masks are worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing with others is not always possible.

It is the first time the UK government has issued the advice, but the Scottish government already recommends masks.

People are also allowed to meet one person from another household outside.

It comes as Boris Johnson announced on Sunday a "conditional plan" to begin lifting England's coronavirus lockdown.

Scotland and Wales - which have their own powers over the lockdown - have not changed the advice for people to stay at home, and have rejected No 10's new "stay alert" slogan.

Mr Johnson will speak to Parliament at 15:30 BST on Monday. He will then lead the government's daily Downing Street press briefing which, due to the Commons statement, has been moved to 19:00.

Read more here



Originally posted by:
BBC News
May 11th, 2020

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