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With a Digital Sneeze I got a Wireless Virus!

In 2009 and in 2012 the Australian Science organisation CSIRO won landmark court case’s on the invention of Wi Fi technology. From its introduction Wi Fi security has been an issue ignored in the wake of the convenience of its features and potential. In early 2000 I recall reading that Queensland University students proved that Wi Fi could never be made totally secure. A gene out of its bottle is rarely put back in and in the case of technology it’s the risk reward ratio that kept the Wi Fi gene out of the bottle as it made device based mobile computing possible and now indispensable.

In Wi Fi’s earliest days I would observe many a poor uni student hunkered down in a shopping mall with a laptop, piggy backing the shopping malls Wi Fi to do their research for free. Now that’s just taken for granted and we expect open access Wi Fi wherever we go as a no charge customer service.
Some time ago a student showed me a device he bought at an electronics store.
“It scans for Wi Fi networks.” He said.
“Why do you need it?”
“I might want to see if I can get online from the wood shed down the bottom of my back yard.”
“Right …….. So how many unsecured Wi Fi networks did you find down your street then?”
“Five”
Wi Fi security is now under a new threat. A digital influenza is now possible. ‘Chameleon’ a codenamed virus designed by researchers at the University of Liverpool have developed an airborne Wi Fi virus.
Piggy backing Wi Fi waves this coded common cold spreads faster than Bali Belly from network to network. The denser the networks the faster it spreads.
It was assumed, however, that it wasn’t possible to develop a virus that could attack Wi Fi networks,” computer security expert Professor Alan Marshall said. “But we demonstrated that this is possible and that it can spread quickly.
So those places offering open access networks, the shopping malls, the coffee shops, free hotspots and my TAFE campus could be dangerous places easily infiltrated.
Straining the distinction between research and Ukrainian hackers the team designed and simulated attacks that spread quickly between home and business avoiding detection and also finding and remembering unprotected networks. In a laboratory setting which must make it alright, they simulated successful attacks on Belfast and London. The team reported that “Chameleon” behaved just like a real airborne virus.

 

When “Chameleon” attacked an AP (Access Point) 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.”
Alan Marshall, Professor of Network Security

 

Shopping malls could become areas of high digital pestilence, with the majority of AP’s in close proximity mostly within a 10-50 metre radius; a Wi Fi virus like “Chameleon” will propagate like the plague.
It slips past virus protection because virus protection software only looks at viruses on our devices not within the Wi Fi network itself. You might beat it with your home and business secured AP only to find yourself “nailed” at your favorite coffee shop or conference.

 

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. It was assumed, however, 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. We are now able to use the data generated from this study to develop a new technique to identify when an attack is likely.” Professor Marshall

 

Well thanks for that but, what about copy cats. I think the first computer virus was let loose by some early computer genius having a random academic moment wondering if he could give networked computers a form of digital cancer, contemplated some likely code and hit the enter key forgetting he was on a huge university network and thus gave birth to the first computer virus. He owned up and apologized but that gene was out of its bottle.

 
I really do wonder sometimes why we keep a laboratory sample of a virus or bacteria causing a horrific disease that took hundreds of years to eradicate just in case we might need it in the future. It’s a trust us scenario because we are scientists and you are just people who don’t know any better and you should leave it to us.
Are they going to do a perpetual computerized quarantine of “Chameleon” while they protect us from others that might invent a “Chameleon” knock off but who are not them? I would either look to putting virus protection on my smart phone or try going to a coffee shop to just have a cup of coffee with a friend and talk, a device free time. It’s fast becoming one of those life crisis issues requiring professional help and mental health coverage on your medical insurance plan.

 

Related Articles:
How CSIRO’s stars won the WiFi battle
Detection and analysis of the Chameleon WiFi access point virus
Adelaide CBD wi-fi network

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2 thoughts on “With a Digital Sneeze I got a Wireless Virus!

  1. I’m glad I mostly keep my mobile phone turned off and deliberately keep the dumbest phone I can so I’m not tempted to use it for everything. I sometimes make the odd phone call on it, but other than that, it’s a tool for emergency communications – like car accidents, or when the landline goes down.

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