Computer Virus Hits Wi-Fi Like The Flu

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Wi-Fi network owners could end up paying a heavy price for being lazy about passwords. Researchers in the UK have created a new virus in the lab that they say can attack weak points in Wi-Fi, moving through them like the flu.

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The virus, dubbed “Chameleon,” sounds like something James Bond would have to battle, but researchers at the University of Liverpool had noble reasons for creating it. A team from the university’s School of Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Computer Science led by network security professor Alan Marshall wants to stay one step ahead of would-be network hijackers.

Details about Chameleon are sparse, but essentially the virus works by attacking Wi-Fi network points where a router’s administrative password has not been changed, the BBC’s Dave Lee reported. This password is different from the one you’d use to access the network at a friend’s house or coffee shop — it’s also often left unchanged.

Marshall and his team got Chameleon to automatically seek out other unprotected Wi-Fi access points in a controlled lab setting, spreading through networks like a common cold going around an elementary school. They published their findings in the EURASIP Journal on Information Security (full article).

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Chameleon is unique enough to go undetected by current virus detection systems — but hopefully not for long. I’m optimistic there will be ways to protect against it. In the meantime, Wi-Fi networks at home and in small businesses tend to be most vulnerable. So change that admin password. Do it now.

Image: A map of physical world travel in green and geotagged communications recorded on Twitter in purple. How safe are the Wi-Fi networks we’re using? Credit: Eric Fischer, Flickr Creative Commons