Bluetooth Security

In any wireless networking setup, security is a concern. Devices can easily grab radio waves out of the air, so people who send sensitive information over a wireless connection need to take precautions to make sure those signals aren't intercepted. Bluetooth technology is no different -- it's wireless and therefore susceptible to spying and remote access, just like WiFi is susceptible if the network isn't secure. With Bluetooth, though, the automatic nature of the connection, which is a huge benefit in terms of time and effort, is also a benefit to people looking to send you data without your permission.

Bluetooth offers several security modes, and device manufacturers determine which mode to include in a Bluetooth-enabled gadget. In almost all cases, Bluetooth users can establish "trusted devices" that can exchange data without asking permission. When any other device tries to establish a connection to the user's gadget, the user has to decide to allow it. Service-level security and device-level security work together to protect Bluetooth devices from unauthorized data transmission. Security methods include authorization and identification procedures that limit the use of Bluetooth services to the registered user and require that users make a conscious decision to open a file or accept a data transfer. As long as these measures are enabled on the user's phone or other device, unauthorized access is unlikely. A user can also simply switch his Bluetooth mode to "non-discoverable" and avoid connecting with other Bluetooth devices entirely. If a user makes use of the Bluetooth network primarily for synching devices at home, this might be a good way to avoid any chance of a security breach while in public.

Still, early cell-phone virus writers have taken advantage of Bluetooth's automated connection process to send out infected files. However, since most cell phones use a secure Bluetooth connection that requires authorization and authentication before accepting data from an unknown device, the infected file typically doesn't get very far. When the virus arrives in the user's cell phone, the user has to agree to open it and then agree to install it. This has, so far, stopped most cell-phone viruses from doing much damage. See How Cell-phone Viruses Work to learn more.

Other problems like "bluejacking," "bluebugging" and "Car Whisperer" have turned up as Bluetooth-specific security issues. Bluejacking involves Bluetooth users sending a business card (just a text message, really) to other Bluetooth users within a 10-meter (32-foot) radius. If the user doesn't realize what the message is, he might allow the contact to be added to his address book, and the contact can send him messages that might be automatically opened because they're coming from a known contact. Bluebugging is more of a problem, because it allows hackers to remotely access a user's phone and use its features, including placing calls and sending text messages, and the user doesn't realize it's happening. The Car Whisperer is a piece of software that allows hackers to send audio to and receive audio from a Bluetooth-enabled car stereo. Like a computer security hole, these vulnerabilities are an inevitable result of technological innovation, and device manufacturers are releasing firmware upgrades that address new problems as they arise.

If communications security is a concern of yours, then click here to learn how phone conferencing security works. To learn more about Bluetooth security issues and solutions, see Bluetooth.com: Wireless Security.

For more information on Bluetooth and related topics, including full Bluetooth specifications, check out the links on the next page.