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Aaah-CHOOO! Brit boffins say WiFi can 'sneeze' malware

Vulnerable access points could spread viruses like that snuffly chapy next to you on the train

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

While the "head cold" metaphor is a bit laboured, the issue is genuine: a group of researchers from the University of Liverpool have found that WiFi access points are highly efficient at passing around virus infections.

Likening the spread of computer viruses over WiFi as akin to the spread of human viruses in the air, the researchers say once a single access point in (for example) a city is infected, it's easy to pass on the virus to other access points.

The modelling was based on a simulation of the Chameleon WiFi access point virus, being spread in Belfast and London.

In the WiFi environment, Chameleon is a polymorphic virus that arose during 2012. Described here, Chameleon is a firmware-replacement attack that presents false outward-facing credentials from infected machines. It can then steal data from users connecting to the access point.

The University of Liverpool modelling exercise also showed that Chameleon could identify the least-protected access points visible from an infected site, while avoiding detection. Unlike endpoints such as laptops, phones and tablets, WiFi access points aren't watched by anti-virus software, the researchers point out in this release.

A poorly-protected access point is easy to infect, and where there's a high concentration of access points, any infected device is likely to be within view of another vulnerable unit. Once units are within 10-50 metres of each other, the modelling found, the virus propagates very quickly.

“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 University of Liverpool professor of network security Alan Marshall. ®

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