Bluetooth Security: Pay Attention, Don't Panic

Carl Weinschenk

The writer of this CNET piece does a nice job of using the the release of an InsightExpress study on Bluetooth security to provide a primer on the topic.


Ironically, there is relatively little information in the story about the study itself. Just about the only mention is that 73 percent of those surveyed are not familiar with Bluetooth-related security measures. That's a significant number, and it's unfortunate there was no elaboration.


The story is good, however. The writer describes the three main types of Bluetooth security problems: "bluejacking," "bluesnarfing" and "bluebugging."


The least serious, "bluejacking," also is known as "bluespamming." As the later name suggests, it is the relatively harmless -- but extremely annoying -- transmission of unsolicited and generally unwanted messages to Bluetooth-enabled devices. One wrung up on the severity ladder is "bluesnarfing," which gives the attacker access to data on the device. This attack is aimed at older versions of Bluetooth and can be successful even if the device is in non-discoverable mode. The most dangerous Bluetooth-related security issue is "Bluebugging." A successful attack gives the hacker full control of the device -- without the legitimate user necessarily knowing what is going on.


This helpful piece ends with four tips for securing Bluetooth: keep the function turned off unless it is being used; keep the visibility setting to "hidden," if possible; don't accept or run attachments from unknown sources and use passwords.


While Bluetooth security has never garnered the share of headlines that perhaps it should, it appears that at least some people are paying attention. Martin's Mobile Technology Page details the security overhaul given to Bluetooth security in Version 2.1 of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's spec, which was released in March.


The post goes into some detail. The highlight are that the pairing protocol -- the process by which a connection is made between two Bluetooth devices -- has been updated. The new version is called the Numeric Comparison Protocol. A simplified version of this, called the the Just Works Protocol, also has been added. Two other new protocols -- The Passkey Protocol and the Out of Band Protocol -- also are new.


The PDA Guy's short posting is worthwhile because it presents a real-world scenario and provides specific advice. The poster had used the "discoverable" mode on his Apple device -- he doesn't specify precisely which it is -- the night before taking a train. At that point, an unsolicited pairing request popped on his screen. The user wonders why Apple hasn't put a default time limit on the discoverability function in OS X. The PDA Guy also draws a lesson from the innocuous episode: Remember to turn off any entry points to the system that are not being used.


Generally, the message of any security story or post is that things are far worse than people think they are. That's why it's refreshing to read Bluehack's assessment that Bluetooth security is better than many portray it because hacking this protocol isn't easy. The writer says three things must occur for a Bluetooth device to be compromised: The connection between two already paired devices must be broken, the packets used to resend the personal identification number (PIN) must be intercepted, and those packets must be decoded.


This, the writer says, is a tall order that requires close proximity of the crook to the victims as well as some pricey gear. The writer acknowledges that hackers have workarounds for those obstacles -- and that security software makers have responded with remedies of their own. In other words, the cat-and-mouse game between Bluetooth thieves and those seeking to protect this ubiquitous platform will continue.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Sep 22, 2007 8:06 AM harry harry  says:
u have done soooo mcuh Reply
Sep 24, 2007 4:10 AM mohana mohana  says:
Wonderful job! Reply
Jan 16, 2008 4:58 AM dj dj  says:
Most Bluetooth devices are currently class 2 devices with a short range of only 10m. This keeps people reasonably well protected but I think when more class 1, 100m devices turn up we will see more bluet-jacking/spamming/snarfing. Reply

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