bluetooth connection

How Safe is a Bluetooth Connection?

Last edited: August 8, 2019
Reading time: 5 minutes, 27 seconds

Bluetooth is a wireless method of transferring information from one device to another. In most cases, Bluetooth is more secure than Wi-Fi. As with any wireless system, though, your data may be transferred to others you did not intend to have access to your information. And it’s not only the music streaming to your Bluetooth headphones that may be compromised. Bluetooth could disclose a great deal of data from your mobile phone, laptop, or computer. It’s time you were aware of the security and privacy risks of using Bluetooth.

How Bluetooth Works

bluetoothIn the tenth century, Harald Denmark became the king of Denmark and united the kingdom with Norway. In recognition of the importance of Nordic countries in the world of cell phone technologies, the technology for wirelessly connecting cell phone headsets was named after him. Bluetooth technology is a protocol for establishing a local network. In this network headsets and other peripherals can communicate with your cell phone and other devices.

When you connect your Bluetooth device, information is exchanged with your computer or phone. First it must establish that this is a device that has connected before or to set up a new connection. In ordinary usage, your phone or computer will not automatically connect with a new device. Because you must approve new connections, a Bluetooth connection is ordinarily secure from hacking from outside devices not already part of your network.

As usual, though, hackers find ways to get past these protections to gain access to your phone or computer. Bluetooth is one of the most secure wireless communication protocols. But there are vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit.

How Hackers Gain Access Through Bluetooth

No security system is perfect, and Bluetooth is no exception. The data between your device and Bluetooth connected peripheral is encrypted. But hackers are constantly working to break that encryption. Hackers are more likely to decrypt data from devices using older Bluetooth versions. Once the encryption is broken, hackers can eavesdrop on all data passing to and from your device. Tap in your bank password on an older Bluetooth-connected watch, and a hacker may be able to pick up your data.

One of the best features of Bluetooth is the range at which you can connect to your device. You can walk away from your phone on your desk and still pull up messages on your smart watch. But that range also allows hackers plenty of room to try to intercept the signal. Whether at the gym or your local coffeeshop, it is possible a hacker could snoop on your Bluetooth signal.

headset bluetoothSome headsets have security vulnerabilities that make them easier to hack. Once a hacker cracks your headset, it’s easy for them to listen in on, or simply record your conversations. A hacker could then gain personal info to use against you. Most companies need personal info to verify your identity when you call.  A hacker listening in on your phone call would then be able to impersonate you to steal your identity. He or she could also learn your address and hear you discussing upcoming vacation plans. This could provide an easy opportunity to break into your home when they know you are away.

Another popular hack tricks your phone into establishing a connection with a new device. Hackers get past the requirement for your authorization of new devices. This attack requires more skill than many other Bluetooth hacks. But this can provide a great deal more information as well. Once your device has established such a connection, it will send and receive any requested data over the connection.

Protecting Your Bluetooth from Hacking

While you may not be able to protect yourself from every possible security threat, a few simple steps can greatly enhance your Bluetooth security. First, in your Bluetooth settings, set up your device to only connect with trusted devices. This will often foil any attempts to establish connections with new devices. Second, you can set up your device to require a pin code to establish a new connection. This makes it virtually impossible for someone to trick your phone into creating a new connection.

One of the best things you can do to protect your Bluetooth device from eavesdropping or other from having your headset hacked is to turn off your Bluetooth when not in use. By restricting the opportunity for attackers to gain access to your Bluetooth, you improve your odds of maintaining security. Many automation apps such as If This Then That or Tasker can be set up to automatically turn off your Bluetooth when you leave a location or disconnect from a device. Not only can this improve your security, but it will give you a slight boost to your device’s battery life as well.

It’s Not Just Hackers You Need to Be Concerned With

You might think that hackers are the only threat you have to worry about trying to use your Bluetooth in ways you didn’t approve. Sadly, this just isn’t the case. Many apps, including popular apps from Facebook, Google, and others can use your device’s Bluetooth to constantly monitor your location.

Smartphone Location MarkerWhen you turn off Bluetooth from your device, it stops transmitting, but still recognizes Bluetooth signals near your device. App makers can use information about which Bluetooth signals are reaching your phone to pinpoint your location. Many app makers spell out in their privacy statement that they will use Bluetooth to help track your location. This means these companies can track your home and work addresses, when you visit a new doctor, your favorite places to shop, and much more about your life. Bluetooth is a very accurate tracking signal.

You can protect your privacy from this Bluetooth invasion by app makers. Carefully read the privacy statement to see if the apps you are using make use of Bluetooth in their location tracking. Because location tracking needs your permission, you can turn off the permission in your device for those apps. It is important to note that even if location services and Bluetooth is turned off on your device, app makers can track your location through Bluetooth as long as you do not turn off permissions for the app.

Protect your privacy and security by following a few simple rules with Bluetooth. Turn Bluetooth off when not in use, only connect with trusted devices, and monitor the permissions you give apps when you install them. While no security system is perfect, by taking these simple precautions you can make Bluetooth as secure as possible.

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