British researchers have created a computer virus that they say is the first to spread like a real airborne contagion.
Chameleon can spread through densely populated areas like the common cold, the University of Liverpool researchers claim, by hopping from network to network via access points, spreading rapidly among homes and businesses. If as that wasn't bad enough, the virus can avoid detection and identify weak wireless access points -- those that are least protected by encryption and passwords.
"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 Alan Marshall, a professor of network security at the school. "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."
The team simulated an attack on Belfast and London in a laboratory setting, and found that Chameleon behaved like an airborne virus, traveling across Wi-Fi networks via access points. It was able to remain hidden because current antivirus programs look for viruses on the Internet and in computers, and Chameleon stayed on the Wi-Fi network, moving past protected access points to find those that weren't password-protected, such as public Wi-Fi access points at airports and coffee shops.
"When Chameleon attacked an AP it didn't affect how it worked, but was able to collect and report the credentials of all other Wi-Fi users who connected to it," Marshall said. "The virus then sought out other Wi-Fi APs that it could connect to and infect."
The University of Liverpool's research appears in the Eurasip Journal on Information Security.
(Source: CNET Australia)