"It was assumed ... 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," said Alan Marshall, professor of network security at the University of Liverpool, in a press release.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers developed a virus called Chameleon and simulated an attack on London and Belfast. They found that the computer virus spread like an airborne virus, traveling across Wi-Fi networks through wireless access points (APs) and quickly infecting the cities.
It's not good news, but there are a few positives, if you can call them that, that I can pull from this.
A Wi-Fi virus is preventable. APs that were "sufficiently encrypted" and password protected were safe from the virus. And there are some basic steps to help secure your home Wi-Fi network. In the study, the virus was stopped by networks with strong protection. But it was still able to spread through less secure public Wi-Fi networks, like those in coffee shops and airports. It's just another reason why these public networks are such a risk, even if they are convenient.
It can't cause physical damage. That's the good news. As Marshall explains: "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."
When you do use public Wi-Fi, here are some ways to stay safe. But as we know with the cold virus, even if you follow best practices, you can still get sick.
All it soon takes is for a handful of angry anti-social geeks to individually or collectively "bug" the rest of the world by mutating soon to be common Wi-Fi colds into lethal plagues that will, similar to plagues that killed tens of millions of humans in the past, bring everything to a social media standstill. That's not only possible, but very likely.