Critical Bluetooth vulnerabilities affect millions of devices

Anton P. | February 19, 2020

There's a common belief that unlike computers, mobile devices are incredibly secure and almost unhackable. Sadly, a critical bug discovered in the Android Bluetooth subsystem proved that this theory is wrong. Right after fixing one flaw, another batch of vulnerabilities comes out to the daylight. It raises an important question: how secure is Bluetooth?

A vulnerability categorized as critical

Germany-based security firm ERNW discovered a bug that allows to spread malware and steal data on Android devices. Due to the vulnerability, a nearby attacker can insert a custom code as a Bluetooth background process on a device. The hack does not require any user interaction and is entirely unnoticeable. A bad actor would only need to find out the device’s Bluetooth MAC address, which appears right after the user turns Bluetooth connectivity on. The security firm did not disclose any further specifications, as they believe, it could negatively impact further misuse of the bug.

Android 8/8.1 Oreo, Android 9 Pie, or earlier software versions are reportedly affected. If left unaddressed, the flaw could leave millions of Android users open to cyberattacks. Luckily, Android 10 remains unaffected and lacks this vulnerability. Even if a hacker attempted to attack this particular software version, that would result only in a single Bluetooth crash.

Steps to follow

Google named the bug as critical and already released a security patch at the beginning of February. But the security updates can take weeks or even months to reach users all around the globe. Luckily, there are ways to prevent yourself from being a hacking victim until the update finally arrives.

Beating the hack is as simple as turning your Bluetooth off. You should disable the feature if you don’t use it. This way, a potential snooper won’t be able to execute your MAC address, and that profoundly lowers the chances of invasion. However, if you find yourself inseparable with your beloved wireless headphones or smartwatch, you should at least set your Bluetooth connection to “non-discoverable.” And lastly, if you use some newer smartphone, don’t wait, and update it to Android 10 version.

Another one to hit: SweynTooth bugs

Following a critical Android’s Bluetooth vulnerability, a team of academics from Singapore published another research. The paper covers a collection of Bluetooth flaws named SweynTooth. More precisely, the vulnerabilities affect software development kits (SDKs) that are responsible for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. Vendors of system-on-a-chip (SoC) chipsets build the SDKs and sell them to companies that make smart devices and put them as the base chipset. If affected, BLE technology allows an attacker to crash a device, force a reboot, or bypass the secure pairing mode and access functionalities reserved for the owner only.

Researchers discovered 12 different vendors that are vulnerable to Sweyntooth attacks. Luckily, 6 of them already released security patches, but 6 more are to go. According to the report, over 480 end-user products and millions of Bluetooth-enabled smart devices could be possibly infected. The list includes wirelessly connected products - fitness tracking bracelets, smart locks, pet trackers, smart lighting solutions, and various other wearables. FitBit, Samsung, and Xiaomi are named as possibly infected brands.

There's a bright side

Bluetooth connections have been around for a few decades, so hackers had plenty of time to find ways to abuse it. Luckily, Bluetooth hacking isn’t that common in reality. Why? To attack your Bluetooth connection, a hacker needs to be nearby you physically. Also, security experts identify Bluetooth hacking difficulty as intermediate, and it requires advanced technical knowledge and even such resources like money or equipment. In the end, it’s safe to say that the Bluetooth technology is generally safe to use, but still, you should beware of the dangers and do your best to protect your digital life.

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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