The worst fears of some computer users may be coming true. Researchers from the University of Liverpool have demonstrated that Wi-Fi networks might be susceptible to viruses, which often move quickly through crowded Wi-Fi networks. Not only was this new virus able to spread quickly, but it could also detect weak spots within a network and launch an attack. This is sobering news for those who use a network, particularly in crowded public places.
What is Chameleon?
Chameleon is the name of the team of researchers who designed and implemented the viral attack. Along the way, the researchers noted that the virus could easily move between computers and networks in various homes and businesses. The researchers were surprised at the remarkable amount of intelligence that the virus displayed in spreading rapidly from one computer and network to the next.
Alan Marshall, Network Security Professor, noted that although the virus does not try to damage the existing network, it infiltrates the data of every user who is connected to a Wi-Fi network. He said, “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.”
He continued, saying that assumptions were made that it was impossible to attack Wi-Fi networks. However, he explained, “. . . 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 when an attack is likely.”
Access points are closer together in more densely populated areas, which allows the virus to spread more quickly. According to sciencedaily.com, the virus spread especially fast through networks that were connected within a 10 to 50 meter radius.
Marshall noted, “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. The virus then sought out other Wi-Fi Aps that it could connect to and infect.”
How Chameleon Attacks
Marshall and his team of researchers tested the virus first by reenacting what a Chameleon attack would look like in densely populated cities such as Belfast or London. They found that the test infected 2,000 routers in London within a span of six to seven weeks. Over the months that followed, it infected close to 5,000 routers.
The most important factor in the attack was the number of computers that were connected to a single router. Marshall noted that some routers are more susceptible than others. For example, corporate Wi-Fi networks are generally much more secure than ordinary coffee shop networks or even a home or apartment network, where the administrator name is often ‘administrator’ and the password is simply ‘password.’
Marshall noted, “The attacker would gain access to a particular router, one that’s easy to get into.” As soon as the attacker gains access, Marshall says, “. . . it actually finds out if it can then flash or reprogram the firmware of the router.”
As soon as the virus has control over the router, it can send one or more messages of its choice to anyone who is using the network. For example, it might say, “Oops! Connection lost,” then follow up by saying, “Please tell us your password, social security number, or address, in this box.” This is the virus’s way of gaining personal information.
How to Safeguard Your Network
The researchers conclude that they will study the data from the attack to figure out a technique that can let them know when an attack is likely. However, users should not rely solely on this information. As with other types of computer viruses, a computer virus protection tool can provide the safety and security a computer user needs. The antivirus software should be as up to date as possible.
For added safety, it is also a good idea to log on to only trusted networks. Attacks and theft of personal data can occur quite fast on a network that is not secure. Computer users should not download any suspicious files or click on suspect links, which may be sent through email or in a popup ad.
As if computer viruses of today’s world weren’t scary enough, a new study has shown that computer viruses can spread quickly and relentlessly through networks, particularly those that are highly populated. This can lead to widespread destruction and loss of data, often within only minutes. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to safeguard your information and prevent such occurrences in the future. Whether you are using the internet from your apartment or are logging on at the local coffee shop, it is a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and avoid sharing login information.