Linux.Wifatch: The Router Virus That May Be Secretly Defending You From Other Malware

The reemergence of the Linux.Wifatch router virus may turn out be an unusual case of a cybercriminal working to defend consumers against other malware rather than doing any direct damage or stealing data.

Symantec researchers said Linux.Wifatch, which has also been called Zollard and Reincarna, has been active since for the last two years. Once it infects a home router, however, its main function has been to keep botnets and other threats off the device. As CSO Online reported, the virus has infiltrated networks through the same weak passwords associated with similar malware but remains fairly visible to third-party inspection and even offers code to assist with debugging.

The Verge suggested the Linux.Wifatch router virus is actually an attempt to ward off government surveillance from agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). Its source code, for example, includes a comment from free software advocate Richard Stallman that urges prying eyes to defend the constitutional rights of citizens. Perhaps because it hasn’t caused any trouble on its own, Symantec suggested Linux.Wifatch is widespread across tens of thousands of devices, but there has yet to be a concrete estimate.

Though its creator remains unknown, ITProPortal observed that whoever is behind Linux.Wifatch is well aware of how a home router can be used to distribute updates without the owner’s permission. There may be some altruistic motives in this case, but unless more users update their firmware and use better passwords, such holes could create security nightmares as more devices become connected via the Internet of Things (IoT).

As with any form of vigilante justice, it may be up to the public to decide they are better positioned to look after themselves. Forbes said that Linux.Wifatch primarily checks Telnet ports for suspicious activity and, if necessary, renders it inoperable. Users are usually then requested to update their router, but that’s not really the kind of safeguard the average consumer or business would want to count on.

Even if this turns out to be a white-hat virus, as International Business Times described it, router users should take the steps necessary to have it removed. Symantec researchers suggested that repeat infections are likely. Even if some of us owe Linux.Wifatch a debt of gratitude, leaving security up to those that sneak their way into devices is a sure way to wind up paying dearly later on.

Shane Schick

Writer & Editor

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who focuses on how information technology creates business value. He lives...