Current virus detection systems look for viruses that are present on the Internet or computers. But this contagious airborne virus can badly hit less-protected open access WiFi networks available in coffee shops or airports.
In a first, researchers at University of Liverpool in Britain have demonstrated that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads among humans.
The team designed and simulated an attack on Belfast and London in a lab setting and found a virus called 'Chameleon'.
It was able to avoid detection and identify the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.
"'Chameleon' behaved like an airborne virus, travelling across the WiFi network via access points (APs) that connect households and businesses to WiFi networks," explained Alan Marshall, professor of network security at the university's school of computer science and electrical engineering and electronics.
Areas that are more densely populated have more APs in closer proximity to each other, which meant that the virus propagated more quickly, particularly across networks connectable within a 10-50 metre radius.
While many access points are sufficiently encrypted and password protected, the virus simply moved on to find those which weren't strongly protected, including open access WiFi points common in locations such as coffee shops and airports.
"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," warned Marshall.
The researchers are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely, said the study published in EURASIP Journal on Information Security.