Heading out? To work or, perhaps, to shop? Consider revising your pre-departure, mental checklist.
That’s right. Turn off Bluetooth on your phone. Keeping Bluetooth always enabled makes you vulnerable to possible hacks, abuse, and privacy violations.
The privacy issues are well documented. Retail stores have been using Bluetooth surveillance devices to track customers for years. Your location within a store can be precisely pinpointed. That’s just one example. Ever wondered how highway signs estimate travel times? They track the Bluetooth devices in cars as they pass between two points. No big deal for now, but what will the future hold for speeding fines? Lastly, look up how AirTags and similar Bluetooth devices have been misused by stalkers.
If these were the only risks, one might deem them acceptable. The benefits far outweigh the unlikely downsides. That view ignores the existence of BlueBorne. BlueBorne is an attack virus designed to infect laptops, tablets, TVs, smartphones, smartwatches, and most any Bluetooth enabled device. It can allow hackers to take complete control of the device. To quote GeeksforGeeks.org:
The targeted device does not need to be paired to the attacker’s device or even to be set on discoverable mode. If your Bluetooth is on and you are in vicinity of already infected device, then the attack virus will get easily transferred to your device without asking for any permission. Thus, it needs zero human interaction and no internet connection.
BlueBorne exploits flaws that aren’t in the Bluetooth standard itself, but in its software implementation in Windows, Android, Linux, and iOS. Devices with out-of-date software are most at risk, especially those built on Linux, a platform that does not have an effective update distribution mechanism. (As a general rule of thumb, most “internet of things” devices are built on Linux.)
BlueBorne is just one Bluetooth threat. Other threats include bluejacking, bluebugging, and bluesnarfing. Some are designed to copy content, others to listen in or intercept calls and messages, still others to download malware. Ultimately, these and other hacking techniques are looking for your personal information. Identity theft is the goal.
Should you be worried? Yes. A better question is, “When should you be worried?” Bluetooth is a short-range communication protocol. Hackers would have to be within thirty feet of so of your device to be effective. So, using Bluetooth at home should be safe. Using it in crowded locations, like an airport, a store, or on public transportation, not so much.
The solutions are easy. Turn off your phone’s Bluetooth when you’re away from home. If you do use it in public, be especially careful when using features like AirDrop or Nearby Share. Keep your apps and software updated. And don’t forget to smile. Not everyone out there is a hacker.
Contact me if you want to learn more.
Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.