Ensuring strong Bluetooth security: Best practices for protecting devices and data

Bluetooth security

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Today, Bluetooth technology is integrated into almost every device that we use, from headsets, smartwatches and home security systems to mobile phones, laptops and car audio devices, writes Shamikasmruthi S.

But, with the advantages and convenience of this tech comes the risk of privacy and security breaches.

Prathibha Muraleedhara in her research paper, “Any Bluetooth Device Can Be Hacked. Know How?”, published in Science Direct – Cyber Security and Applications Journal, explains that most Bluetooth devices have potential vulnerabilities that cyber-criminals can take advantage of and exploit.

Her extensive research and invaluable professional experience gained by working with several leading product-based manufacturing companies have enabled her to get a deep understanding of security risks associated with technologies like Bluetooth, RF, Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Ensuring strong Bluetooth security

Bluetooth technology has limited security features: (1) Device authentication where it validates the address of the connected devices; (2) confidentiality by preventing data compromise and eavesdropping; (3) integrity achieved by validating that the data sent over the connection is not tampered in transit.

However, Bluetooth does not support other crucial security features like native user authentication, auditing and non-repudiation.

“Cybercriminals find creative ways to take advantage of these weaknesses,” says the researcher.

“Sometimes, the devices may be configured to use legacy pairing methods like Just Works which use null variables to generate keys making it vulnerable to Man-In-The-Middle attacks.

“At times, devices incorporate weak key exchange protocols like Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH).

“With the advancement in quantum technology and computers, even public-private key-based authentication methods are prone to quantum exploits and attacks.”

This category of exploits is possible usually when the devices have Bluetooth enabled and the “discoverable to others” mode is turned on.

Unauthorised access

According to the research paper, exploiting Bluetooth vulnerabilities can have devastating consequences.

Hackers can gain unauthorised access to personal data, including text messages, contacts, emails, photos and files, which can then be used for criminal activities such as identity theft and invasion of privacy.

There are many exploits that take advantage of outdated legacy firmware. Bluejacking is an exploit in which hackers spam devices with unsolicited phishing messages,” added Muraleedhara.

“Bluebugging is another class of exploit that hackers use to gain access to devices like laptops, mobile phones, tablets and audio devices.

“Using the Car Whisperer tool, the hacker can transmit audio to the car’s speaker kit or eavesdrop and listen to conversations happening among the people traveling in the car.

“There are several dark market tools that can be used to launch exploits like BlueSmack, BlueSnarf, BlueBug, BlueSnarf++ and many more.”

Attack techniques

Attackers can be quite creative, initiating pairing requests from rogue Bluetooth devices and sending messages containing malware, viruses, spyware and phishing links to malicious websites.

Denial-of-service attacks can be launched by transferring oversized packets to victim devices, causing them to malfunction or break down.

Advanced techniques even allow for eavesdropping on conversations and audio remotely, while some use the channel to broadcast harassing messages containing hateful and abusive content.

“I believe it is important to create awareness. Everyone should take care of basic security checks like making sure the default settings for Bluetooth devices must be undiscoverable until pairing is required,” says Prathibha.

Bluetooth security: Best practices

Everyone should set up six-digit long, random security PINs for Bluetooth pairing.

The Bluetooth should be turned off on devices when not in use so as to avoid being discovered by other malicious Bluetooth devices and scanners.

NEVER accept Bluetooth pairing requests from unknown devices.

It is very important that manufacturers should make sure they incorporate the best security measures to protect their customers. They should use the latest version of the Bluetooth Core Specification.

Always pairing the Association Model that comes with Man-in-the-Middle protection should be used. Encryption, authentication, and authorisation permissions should be configured.

They should regularly release security updates and patches.

About the Author

Shamikasmruthi is a writer and editor with professional experience in cybersecurity working for product-based companies. As a polymath with a background in computer science, she draws from varied interests and fields to fuel her writing.

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