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Cybersecurity in Bluetooth Technology

By University Alliance
Cybersecurity in Bluetooth Technology

In today’s technologically-focused society, more and more people are embracing the simplicity of wireless connections. Wires may be functional, but they may also be unsightly and likely to snag or tangle, particularly for those who prefer to use their devices on the go. While various wireless technologies exist, perhaps the most popular is Bluetooth.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that allows communication between two compatible devices. Found in many modern cell phones, computers, headsets, PDAs, tablets and cars, Bluetooth uses radio frequencies to provide a fast and easy way for users to connect two wireless devices.

For example, a computer user could use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to free their desk from unsightly wires. Some car manufacturers allow users to connect their cell phones to their car audio systems using Bluetooth technology, allowing songs on the cell phone to be played through car stereo systems. Bluetooth headsets allow hands-free usage of cell phones. In each case, Bluetooth provides the same functionality of physically connected peripherals, but without the wires.

What Security Issues Exist?

While many Bluetooth users consider it to be a relatively safe technology, there are security issues that users need to be aware of. Many Bluetooth devices connect with each other using a simple numeric PIN number that is usually not encrypted. Secure encryption and key authentication technologies do exist, but are not currently found in all Bluetooth devices.

What this means is that hackers often need only crack a numeric code to enable a connection between their devices and yours. Some hackers may use this connection to send you messages. Others, however, may use it to access your private data or upload viruses.

Common Bluetooth Misconceptions

Many users see Bluetooth as largely secure, given its short range and the fact that two devices must pair with each other before they can communicate. The truth about Bluetooth, however, is that not only can it reach transmission distances of up to 300 feet when operating at maximum power, but that it can also be hacked, making private data vulnerable. For example, a “BlueSnarfing” attack can be used to hack some devices without the need for authentication, allowing hackers the ability to modify system settings or access calendars, address books and other personal information.

How to Protect Yourself

Turn off Bluetooth when you can. The most important tip to consider is disabling Bluetooth when it is not in use. This means that if you are not actively using Bluetooth to connect two devices, simply keep Bluetooth turned off. This reduces the chance that a hacker will see your device and attempt to access your data.

Use the “hidden” mode. Bluetooth can be set as “hidden” to prevent unfamiliar Bluetooth devices from recognizing the device. This does not prevent you from using devices that have already been paired together. It does, however, mean that you will not be able to pair new devices together. If you wish to add a new device to your Bluetooth network, temporarily switch Bluetooth to “discoverable” until the pairing is complete.

Try using Bluetooth in secure areas only. If you tend to use Bluetooth technology in public areas like a café or library, be aware that these areas are more likely to attract criminal attention. As with any WiFi device, try to limit Bluetooth use in public hotspots to reduce the security risk.

These few tips, while by no means comprehensive, should be enough to increase the general security of most users’ home and mobile devices. Bluetooth can be a very effective way to reduce the wires that we use, and while it does present a few problems, they should not lead you to avoid Bluetooth entirely. Rather, as with all computer technologies, the key lies in educating yourself of any security risk so that you can use your favorite devices as safely as possible.

Category: Cybersecurity & Information Assurance