Hackers are constantly developing new techniques to exploit Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Bluetooth technology has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, allowing us to connect and communicate wirelessly with a wide range of devices. However, as with any technology, this convenience also comes with a risk—the possibility of being hacked or attacked through Bluetooth connections.
By exploiting security vulnerabilities in the technology, this type of attack aims to extract sensitive data, such as passwords, contacts, messages and other confidential information, from Bluetooth-enabled devices without the owner’s consent. From smartphones and laptops to desktop computers and other electronic gadgets, no device is safe from the risk of a security breach.
In 2020, the risk of Bluetooth hacking has been brought to light by a team of cybersecurity researchers discovering “SweynTooth”, which is a collection of 12 potentially severe security vulnerabilities. This vulnerability affects millions of Bluetooth-enabled wireless smart devices worldwide, underscoring the importance of proactively securing all Bluetooth-enabled devices to prevent potential security breaches.
In this article, let’s explore the common types of Bluetooth attacks and the measures you can take to shield your devices from popular Bluetooth attacks.
Most common types of Bluetooth attacks
Bluejacking involves sending unsolicited messages or data to a Bluetooth-enabled device. It will likely happen in busy areas, like malls, restaurants, airports and public transport, where the bluejacker can easily find Bluetooth-enabled devices. Although the attacker does not gain control of the device or steal sensitive data, these messages contain malicious content or links that can harm the user’s device or compromise their privacy.
Bluesnarfing allows hackers to access and download data from a Bluetooth-enabled device without the user’s knowledge or consent. Unlike Bluejacking, which is typically harmless and only involves sending unsolicited messages or files, Bluesnarfing can result in the theft of sensitive information, such as contact lists, messages, passwords and photos.
Bluesnarfing occurs when the targeted phone’s Bluetooth is in discoverable mode, allowing other devices in the vicinity to locate and pair with it. To gain access to the device’s data, the attacker takes advantage of security vulnerabilities within the object exchange (OBEX) protocol used for exchanging information between Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Bluesnarfing attacks are known to be challenging to detect, as they can happen without alerting the user. This is in contrast to Bluejacking, which is more apparent due to the unexpected message or file sent to the user’s device.
Bluebugging is a severe type of Bluetooth attack that gives hackers access to calls, messages, texts and contacts of the targeted device. To execute a successful bluebugging attack, the attacker exploits a vulnerability in the Bluetooth protocol and must be close to the target device, typically within ten meters.
Wireless earbuds are also vulnerable to bluebugging attacks, as attackers can exploit the apps that connect them to your True Wireless Stereo (TWS) headphones or other gadgets. This allows them to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data and even control your device from a remote location.
The main difference between bluebugging and bluesnarfing is the level of access they provide. Bluebugging creates a backdoor that allows an attacker to take control of the device even after the initial attack, whereas Bluesnarfing only provides temporary access to the device without creating a backdoor.
Car Whisperer is a software developed by the wireless security expert group Trifinite in 2005 to highlight the vulnerabilities of Bluetooth systems, particularly those found in cars. Attackers can exploit default PIN codes on Bluetooth radios by emulating a phone and connecting to the car’s Bluetooth system to access the vehicle’s audio system. This enables them to listen in on conversations from passing cars or send their audio to the car by using Bluetooth units that are not connected.
BlueBorne is a type of Bluetooth attack that is named after the combination of the words Bluetooth and airborne. This attack is notable for its ability to spread wirelessly and take full control of a device without the user’s knowledge. Even if the device is not set to be discoverable or paired with the attacker’s device, your device is still in danger of such attacks as long as Bluetooth is turned on.
Blueborne attacks can impact a significant number of devices, particularly those that run outdated and unsupported operating systems. While patches have been released to address the vulnerabilities, not all devices and operating systems may have received them, making them vulnerable to attacks.
Bluesmacking is a form of denial of service (DoS) that involves flooding the target Bluetooth-enabled device with an excessive amount of data, which can cause the device to crash or freeze. This attack can also drain the device’s battery quickly, leaving it unusable for an extended period.
Essential tips to stay safe from Bluetooth attacks
To safeguard your Bluetooth-enabled devices against potential attacks, here are essential tips and practices you can follow:
Update your device’s software and firmware: Regularly updating the software and firmware of your Bluetooth-enabled devices is essential to address any known security vulnerabilities. Manufacturers often release patches and updates to fix security issues and improve device performance.
To check for available updates, access your device’s settings menu or use the manufacturer’s software update tool and install them promptly. Also, ensure that you only download updates from reliable sources and avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading unknown software.
Avoid sharing messages or data shared through Bluetooth: It is not recommended that you share or transfer sensitive data via Bluetooth, as it may pose a security risk. Hackers can potentially intercept or access this information, leading to unauthorized access and misuse. Therefore, it is crucial to use secure communication methods, such as encrypted communication channels or trusted file transfer protocols, when transmitting sensitive data.
Turn off Bluetooth when not in use: Bluetooth attacks like BlueBorne can occur within seconds of your device being discovered. The attacker can easily scan for Bluetooth-enabled devices and identify vulnerable targets. The attack can even work when the device is already paired with something else. To reduce this risk, enable Bluetooth discovery only when necessary and disable it once you have finished using it.
If you keep Bluetooth on all the time on your phone for a device like a smartwatch, it is a good idea to turn off Bluetooth on your other devices, especially any IoT gear that has Bluetooth capabilities.
Unpair devices that you no longer use: To prevent unintended or accidental connections between devices, unpair Bluetooth devices that you don’t use anymore or have lost or sold. This practice can prevent security breaches or other issues.
In today’s digital age, we rely heavily on Bluetooth technology to power our devices, but we often overlook the security risks associated with it. With the rise of Bluetooth attacks, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your personal data. By regularly updating your device’s software, avoiding sharing sensitive data through Bluetooth, and unpairing devices that are no longer in use, you can mitigate the risk of falling victim to these attacks. Stay one step ahead of potential threats by taking proactive measures to safeguard your Bluetooth-enabled devices.
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