A menu of Bluetooth attacks

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Hacking Bluetooth

How would a potential hacker exploit the Bluetooth radio in your handheld device? Bluetooth attacks often have cute names that belie their true intentions. Here are some of the most popular Bluetooth hacks. For more information, check in with the Bluetooth Special Interest Group at www.bluetooth.com/help/security.asp.

Bluesnarfing. Bluesnarfing attacks involve a hacker covertly gaining access to your Bluetooth-enabled device for the purpose of retrieving information, including addresses, calendar information or even the device's International Mobile Equipment Identity. With the IMEI, a hacker could route your incoming calls to his cell phone.

Bluesnarfing was a bigger problem on cell phones between 2003 and 2004. It is hard to do, and the necessary software can be tough to obtain. Firmware updates have reduced the threat considerably. In addition, placing your phone in a nondiscoverable mode makes it harder on the attacker, because he then needs additional software to locate your Bluetooth signal. We tried to bluesnarf two phones in the GCN Lab. The first, a Sony Ericsson P910a, was impenetrable. The second, an older Nokia 3650, was easier to connect with. Using special software, we were able to force a connection with the phone.

Bluebugging. Bluebugging means hacking into a Bluetooth device and using the commands of that device without notifying or alerting the user. By bluebugging, a hacker could eavesdrop on phone conversations, place phone calls, send and receive text messages, and even connect to the Internet.

Bluebugging exploits a different vulnerability than bluesnarfing. It's a firmware issue commonly associated with older cell phones. In the lab we were more successful with bluesnarfing than bluebugging. In fact, we never launched a successful bluebug attack.

Bluejacking. Bluetooth devices have the ability to send so-called wireless business cards. A recent trend has been to send anonymous business cards with offensive messages, and frankly, it's easy to do. But it doesn't put data in jeopardy.

Bluejacking requires an attacker to be within 10 meters of a device. If someone bluejacks you, you could probably see his face. Never add bluejack messages to your contacts list. And to avoid the nuisance altogether, simply put your phone on nondiscoverable mode.

Denial of service. DOS attacks occur when an attacker uses his Bluetooth device to repeatedly request pairing with the victim's device. Unlike on the Internet, where this type of constant request can bring down services, a Bluetooth DOS attack is mostly just a nuisance, since no information can be transferred, copied or attained by the attacker.

DOS attacks are the easiest to perform and can drain a device's battery or temporarily paralyze the phone or PDA. However, since this attack relies on the proximity of the attacker to the victim, it's easy to stop. Just walk away.

In the Lab, we were able to perform DOS attacks on every Bluetooth device we tested. Currently, there are few software defenses against this type of assault.

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