A team of researchers at the University of Liverpool developed a virus dubbed Chameleon that travels over WiFi networks and spreads “as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.”

Unlike most viruses, Chameleon doesn’t go after computers or internet resources, but focuses on access points (APs), or where you connect to the internet.

For the average home user, this is usually a wireless router.

The research team says the virus spreads fast, avoiding detection and identifying “the points at which WiFi access is least protected by encryption and passwords.” If the virus hits a roadblock when trying to propagate, it simply looks for other access points “which weren’t strongly protected including open access WiFi points common in locations such as coffee shops and airports.”

There hasn’t been many technical details released on the virus, but it’s not unheard of for an AP to become infected; a few weeks ago, in fact, reports surfaced that several thousand Linksys routers had become infected with a worm likely installed by a vulnerability found in the firmware.

“When Chameleon attacked an AP it didn’t affect how it worked, but was able to collect and report the credentials of all other WiFi users who connected to it”, said Alan Marshall, Professor of Network Security at the University.

It’s unfortunate that very few routers today have adequate anti-virus protection, if they have any at all. In addition, many consumers don’t ever change the default username and password on their routers, making it dreadfully susceptible to hijacking.

Here are some measures you can take to protect yourself from these types of threats:

  • Change the default username and password on your home router
  • Ensure your WiFi network is password protected with a strong password
  • Avoid weaker wireless authentication protocols like WEP
  • Don’t broadcast your network’s name (SSID)
  • Avoid public networks and WiFi hotspots
  • Consider MAC address filtering to control which devices connect to your network

Joshua Cannell is a Malware Intelligence Analyst at Malwarebytes where he performs research and malware analysis. Twitter: @joshcannell