Security researchers have known for some time that Wi-Fi access points are vulnerable to the spread of malware and other exploits. However, the university simulation shows the full effect of a Wi-Fi worm, and proves that the infection does not have to spread to attached PCs to wreak havoc.
Like a parasite living off of its host, an infected router could simply monitor PCs' Internet connections and relay nonencrypted traffic back to the worm's creators, said Steven Myers, assistant professor at Indiana University's School of Informatics, in an interview with IEEE Spectrum. The infected router could then search the data streams for credit card information or other valuable data, he said.
Myers said that since wireless routers generally do not run antivirus software, there might not be a way to clean an infected router. But users can prevent most infection threats by using strong passwords and WPA -- not WEP -- for encryption.