#1 Wi-Fi 'virus' could be used to attack wireless access points, researchers discover by anwenwilson 28.07.2017 15:05

Dense concentrations of Wi-Fi access points and routers in large cities could be attacked by malware able to spread silently from node to node, researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time.

In the experiment conducted by Jonny Milliken, Valerio Selis and Professor Alan Marshall, a specially-crafted virus called ‘Chameleon’ was pitted against a range of common access points with poorly-secured management interfaces (i.e. using default passwords). Once access had been achieved, Chameleon then attempted to take control of the device by re-flashing its firmware with a replacement, open source OpenWrt.

Attackers gaining control in this way would be able to monitor traffic for credentials or other data but the team’s real discovery was that Chameleon would also be able to spread and infect other routers in its neighbourhood in a manner similar to an “airborne virus.”

Having proved the concept in the lab, the team modelled the attack against the sort of Wi-Fi density found in two cities, Belfast and London, finding that even using an infection rate of five to ten percent, Chameleon would be able to infect several thousand access points within a few months.

Although this sounds like a small number and a long timescale, in a large city each one of these access points could be serving anything from a handful to many thousands of people, so attackers would have gained access to potentially large amounts of valuable data.

Most striking of all, because many access points are left untouched and unmanaged, the attack would be hard to detect. Access points using encryption would offer a small challenge to the extent that re-flashing them would destroy the embedded key. This would need to be captured first.

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