Wi-Fi network owners could end up paying a heavy price for being lazy about passwords. Researchers in the UK have created a new virus in the lab that they say can attack weak points in Wi-Fi, moving through them like the flu.

Web-Connect To Everything You Own: Photos

The virus, dubbed “Chameleon,” sounds like something James Bond would have to battle, but researchers at the University of Liverpool had noble reasons for creating it. A team from the university’s School of Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Computer Science led by network security professor Alan Marshall wants to stay one step ahead of would-be network hijackers.

Details about Chameleon are sparse, but essentially the virus works by attacking Wi-Fi network points where a router’s administrative password has not been changed, the BBC’s Dave Lee reported. This password is different from the one you’d use to access the network at a friend’s house or coffee shop — it’s also often left unchanged.

Marshall and his team got Chameleon to automatically seek out other unprotected Wi-Fi access points in a controlled lab setting, spreading through networks like a common cold going around an elementary school. They published their findings in the EURASIP Journal on Information Security (full article).

Computer Program Solves Flu Problem

Chameleon is unique enough to go undetected by current virus detection systems — but hopefully not for long. I’m optimistic there will be ways to protect against it. In the meantime, Wi-Fi networks at home and in small businesses tend to be most vulnerable. So change that admin password. Do it now.

Image: A map of physical world travel in green and geotagged communications recorded on Twitter in purple. How safe are the Wi-Fi networks we’re using? Credit: Eric Fischer, Flickr Creative Commons