Bluetooth security: is Bluetooth safe from hackers?

Anton P. | February 03, 2023

Bluetooth security has concerns about whether someone could hack and control devices via Bluetooth. For instance, you connect wireless earbuds to your smartphone to make hands-free phone calls. 

Bluetooth is primarily reliable, and pairing poses little to no threat usually. However, specific scenarios, vulnerabilities, and hacking tactics can sabotage connections. 

For instance, perpetrators could intercept the connection between a wireless keyboard and a computer. As a result, the attackers could capture everything you have typed. So, let’s discuss Bluetooth security and when you should disable it.

Bluetooth security can be hurt by hackers. Find how to connect devices securely.

What Bluetooth is and how it works 

Bluetooth is a wireless technology responsible for exchanging data between nearby devices. Thus, it differs from other radio waves because Bluetooth works within short distances and frequencies change. 

The average connectivity range is 30 feet (10 meters). However, disturbances or connection failures might occur due to obstacles like thick walls. 

When it comes to switching frequencies, this bouncing uplifts Bluetooth security. Devices hop to different frequencies hundreds of times per second to fend off hacking attacks. 

After you pair a device for the first time, future connections will occur automatically. Also, Bluetooth security might differ based on the type of paired devices. 

Common attacks from Bluetooth hackers 

Bluetooth security faces these threats attempting to gain unauthorized access to users’ devices and data.

Bluejacking

Bluejacking is an attack when perpetrators exploit a Bluetooth connection to send unsolicited messages from the targets’ devices. The technique might be harmless, and some instances show its use in guerilla marketing. 

Modern mobile devices support much more, transferring files like videos and images. 

Bluesnarfing 

Bluesnarfing means that someone connects to a device without its owner’s knowledge. 

As a result, the unknown invader can retrieve personal information on the target machine. It might include anything from pictures and contact lists to text messages. 

Bluebugging

Bluebugging attack can be much more devastating as it allows a perpetrator to control a device completely. 

There are certain limitations that attackers resolve with the use of directional antennas. Bluebugging attempts to create a bug (backdoor) and take control of the device. 

Location tracking

Hackers can intercept your connection to keep track of your movements. In 2019, researchers from Boston University reported a vulnerability in multiple high-profile Bluetooth devices. Essentially, hackers could retrieve sensitive information, including exact locations and activities. 

BlueBorne attacks

These unsolicited exploits refer to the device takeover through BlueBorne vulnerability. Upon successful attacks, the perpetrator gains access to corporate networks or spreads malware laterally to adjacent devices. 

In 2018, reports suggested that around two billion devices were still vulnerable to BlueBorne attacks. At that time, the general public had known about the flaw for a year. 

Other flaws in Bluetooth enabled devices 

Over the years, there have been many flaws related to the compromised security of Bluetooth technology. Here are some of the notorious examples: 

  • Key Negotiation (KNOB), detected in 2019, allowed attackers to intercept connections and decrypt data. The raid would typically force two devices to select a short encryption key. For instance, it could have allowed attackers to retrieve all keystrokes made via a wireless keyboard. 
  • BLESA (Bluetooth Low Energy Spoofing Attack) emerged to the public in 2020. It targets the moment Bluetooth connections get restored after devices have fallen out of range. Thus, BLESA could have allowed perpetrators to connect to devices and transfer spoofed info to them. 
  • The flaw in Bluetooth Core and Mesh specifications is a vulnerability reported in May of 2021. The flaw could allow attackers to impersonate other devices and assist in implementing MitM attacks

Bluetooth security vulnerabilities and patches

Thousands of Bluetooth devices remain vulnerable and not necessarily through users’ fault. Some developers might not release the necessary updates. Additionally, a portion of devices might be inaccessible and incapable of OTA (over the air) patching. 

Tips for Bluetooth security 

  • Disable Bluetooth setting when you do not need to pair devices. Minimizing your Bluetooth usage is one way to remain safer. At the very least, turn Bluetooth off when in an unfamiliar environment, like coffee shops or malls. 
  • Patches are everything to ensure Bluetooth security. Many Bluetooth vulnerabilities have come and passed. In other words, numerous patches have been released to fix them. Thus, it is your responsibility to apply them. 
  • Limit which applications can use Bluetooth technology. You should ensure that applications cannot turn your device into a Bluetooth peripheral. Thus, always be sure of how different applications can use Bluetooth. For instance, you should set AirDrop to communicate with contacts only. 
  • Keep Bluetooth turned off when visiting crowded locations. The bright side of Bluetooth attacks is that they must occur in close proximity to the targets. Therefore, if you perform confidential tasks, be aware of your surroundings. 
  • Set Hidden instead of Discoverable mode on your device. One trick to use is to prevent unknown devices from finding your gadget. You can implement this by setting your Bluetooth in hidden mode.

All in all, Bluetooth is the invisible power that simplifies our lives. However, like Wi-Fi, it is prone to vulnerabilities. You should be aware of the possible attacks and do everything to defend against them. For instance, use a VPN to guarantee safer online data transfers.

However, whenever you choose a new device, please ensure that the company releases regular updates. If not, your devices could remain vulnerable to Bluetooth bugs or others.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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