Researchers at Liverpool University have succeeded in creating a virus that can spread via Wi-Fi like a contagious disease.
The team found that the "Chameleon" virus could spread quickly between homes and businesses and was able to identify Wi-Fi access areas unprotected by encryption and passwords.
A simulated attack on Belfast and London was staged in a laboratory setting, wherein the threat behaved like an airborne virus, traversing the network via Access Points (APs). Much like a flu outbreak, the bug's dissemination was quicker in denser areas with more APs.
"When 'Chameleon' attacked an AP it didn't affect how it worked, but was able to collect and report the credentials of all other WiFi users who connected to it," said Alan Marshall, Professor of Network Security at the University.
Virus detection systems were rendered ineffective because, unlike standard bugs that inhabit the Internet or computers, Chameleon exists only on the Wi-Fi network.
If it encountered impassable encryption or password protection, it would simply move on to weaker APs. Those in public locations such as coffee shops and airports were particularly vulnerable.
"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," Marshall continued.
The research is published in EURASIP Journal on Information Security.