Liverpool: Dense concentrations of Wi-Fi access points and routers in large cities could be attacked by malware able to spread silently from node to node, researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time. Researchers have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with an ‘airborne’ virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.
The experimental virus, called Chameleon, was able to spread quickly between homes and businesses. It could avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords. Chameleon behaves just as a disease would in a viral outbreak, moving faster through cities with dense populations, where access points (and humans) are closer together. The computer scientists simulated its outbreak in Belfast and London and found that in the higher density of London, the connectivity between devices was a more important factor than how susceptible the access points were.
Chameleon was able to avoid detection as current virus detection systems look for viruses that are present on the internet or computers, but Chameleon is only ever present in the WiFi network. Whilst many APs are sufficiently encrypted and password protected, the virus simply moved on to find those which weren’t strongly protected including open access WiFi points common in locations such as coffee shops and Airport s.
Network Security Professor, Alan Marshall, stated that the virus doesn’t attempt to damage existing networks but instead infiltrates the data of all users connected to a network via Wi-Fi . “WiFi 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 Marshall. “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,” he added.
The research highlights the unprotected state of router/access point technology, which rely on correctly-configured encryption and management to keep out attackers. But there is growing evidence that even without direct wireless attacks, these devices are riddled with vulnerabilities.
The researchers are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely, said the study published in EURASIP Journal on Information Security.
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