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Scientists create virus that could move undetected between Wi-Fi access points

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February 26, 2014

The Wi-Fi virus could reportedly spread as quickly as an airborne biological virus (Image:...

The Wi-Fi virus could reportedly spread as quickly as an airborne biological virus (Image: Shutterstock)

We all know to look out for viruses that can be spread over the internet, or by sharing files between computers. Now, however, scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that special viruses could move between wireless access points using existing Wi-Fi networks – as efficiently as the common cold virus spreads between people through the air.

The team computer-simulated an attack by a virus known as Chameleon, which they created. Although the virus didn't affect the functions of the access points (APs) or users' computers, it was able to access and report the credentials of all the people who were using those APs at the time. Some APs were impregnable due to encryption or password protection, but in those cases Chameleon would just move on to other more vulnerable access points.

Due to the fact that existing anti-virus software is only designed to look for viruses in computers or on the internet, the virus itself remained undetected.

The simulated attack was set in London and Belfast. Just like the cold virus spreads quicker in crowded cities, Chameleon spread faster in situations where multiple APs were located in close proximity to one another.

"Wi-Fi connections are increasingly a target for computer hackers because of well-documented security vulnerabilities, which make it difficult to detect and defend against a virus," said Prof. Alan Marshall, who took part in the study. "It was assumed, however, that it wasn’t possible to develop a virus that could attack Wi-Fi networks, but we demonstrated that this is possible and that it can spread quickly. We are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely."

Source: University of Liverpool

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
5 Comments

if you can receive data via wifi how on earth do you think it would not be possible to receive a virus or worm etc. Okay now how many people just breezed through the title and were worried you could catch a communicable disease like the flu or herpes through your Star Bucks Wifi?

Norman Bouchal
26th February, 2014 @ 05:54 pm PST

The internet provides us with a double-edged sword. Time and time again one comes across articles by computer experts commenting on how lucky we are that we don't have many more attacks on the whole commuter network.

I use internet banking, but it scares me rigid and I spend as little time as possible logged on to my bank.

It is surprising to find computer experts being said to have thought that such and such a thing was impossible. If the computer age has taught us anything at all it is that the so-called 'impossible' is more often than not likely to prove to be the exact opposite.

I can fully understand the pleasure hackers get from the intellectual challenge of breaking into supposedly secure systems and clearly, if given a better direction, they would make a very valuable contribution to society. Simply throwing them into jail when caught is self-defeating because it removes that talent from the labour pool. How we provide that new direction is probably the highest intellectual challenge of all. Until then, all we can do is stop deluding ourselves that anything in the world of computing is impossible.

Mel Tisdale
27th February, 2014 @ 04:07 am PST

It's time to make penalties for hacking into computers or networks much more serious, like a minimum sentence of 30 years plus a fine of $1 billion.

Hacking has the real potential to destroy economies, create wars, cause serious safety problems, and ruin people's lives.

robo
27th February, 2014 @ 08:53 am PST

Don't need this, do need antidote to this for WiFi users ... Or wreck whole economy or computer system via hacking.

Stephen N Russell
27th February, 2014 @ 04:31 pm PST

Not sure why this is even a story, a router is just a computer connected to a network, of course it can get infected or attacked.

Rann Xeroxx
28th February, 2014 @ 11:44 am PST
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