What is a Bluebugging Attack?

  • By Greg Brown
  • Oct 28, 2022

bluebugging attack

Have you ever had another person eavesdrop on a personal conversation while pretending not to hear a thing? Gathering information by stealthily listening to another person’s communication without their consent is, at the very least unethical and may be considered unlawful.

Skilled hackers have now found a way to attack discoverable Bluetooth-enabled devices. This easy access is helped by a user’s lack of awareness about their device. We are all surrounded by Bluetooth devices, from headphones and speaker systems to smart home devices and fitness trackers.

Each Bluetooth device we use shares its data with others and the web. There are always hackers waiting to attack your device. 

Bluebugging is a Bluetooth-enabled attack technique similar to what are known as the bluejacking and the bluesnarfing techniques.

  • Bluejacking attempts to send unsolicited and unwanted messages to Bluetooth-enabled devices, like smartphones, PDAs, or laptops. These messages include a vCard containing a malicious message in the name section. Bluejacking is used primarily to send the victim unauthorized pictures, messages, or advertisements.
  • Bluesnarfing is the unlawful access of someone’s personal information from someone’s wireless device using Bluetooth. Bluesnarfing is different from other malware of this type because it steals information from the target device. This type of attack targets the International mobile equipment identity IMEI number. The IMEI is a number devices that require a SIM card must use to verify the device as valid and can be located in the settings menu. Another form of bluesnarfing is guessing the MAC address using a brute force attack. Access to the IMEI allows an attacker to reroute incoming calls to another phone.
  • Bluesniping is another form of attack technique that is similar in form to bluesnarfing. Bluesniping increases the range of a Bluetooth attack up to one mile, making this malware especially dangerous. Bluesniping uses a specialized hardware device called a BluSniper Gun.
  • BlueBone attacks are another form of attack vector where hackers leverage Bluetooth connections to take control of a device. The attacker will push malware code to your device using brute force. Hackers use this attack to spread malware to any other device close to the affected machine. Bluetooth devices use essential radio signals to transmit data, so infecting machines in close proximity is easy. 

Bluebugging

Bluebugging is a devious application whereby the software manipulates a target phone or PDA device into revealing its complete security secrets. 

Bluebugging is a step up from older malware. Bluebugging can access and use all the features of the device it attacks but is limited to the transmitting power of Class2 Bluetooth radio. The operational range of a class 2 Bluetooth device is 10 to 15 meters. Directional antennas can increase the range.

How does a bluebugging attack happen?

  1. The attacker must be no more than 15 meters from the device and be in discover mode. 
  2. A link is created with the device using a brute force attack to get around any security measures the device may have. 
  3. Once the link has been secured, hackers install a backdoor on the target device. The backdoor exploits vulnerabilities of the device, such as remote code execution and privilege escalation vulnerability which gives open access to the device.
  4. After the access has been established, attackers install a form of malware, giving the predator full access to the device. 
  5. If executed properly, the hacker’s device remains a trusted device in the victim’s cell. Attackers can use this advantage to enter AT commands and fully control the smartphone.
  6. Once the device is bluebugged, the attacker can send and receive messages, listen to phone calls, and modify contact lists. Attackers can easily gain access to financial accounts housed on the device.

The popularity of wireless network attacks has increased dramatically. Attackers are always on the lookout for rogue networks and access points. A popular destination for attackers is the unauthorized installation of devices on major corporate networks. These rogue devices allow attackers to circumvent primary security protocols and give attackers full access to the network. 

how to prevent bluebugging attack

Rogue wireless networks and unsecured access points are discovered through a technique called War Driving. Searching for wireless signals over a large area, attackers use an automobile or other means of transportation. Bluebugging differs from one device to another due to specific vulnerabilities with each device. Improper Bluetooth protocols have been implemented on mobile devices to facilitate an attack.

Preventing a Bluebugging Attack

Malware is now attacking any electronic device, and the malicious code does not care about the size or the complexity. Most malicious code is simple and extremely lite, so it can be hidden in any device area. Attackers count on the user being lazy or non-compliant with their devices, especially smartphones. 

  • The most important aspect of keeping your device safe is ensuring each piece of software is updated, especially the operating system. Bluetooth-enabled devices have Discoverable mode on by default. Make certain older devices are updated with the latest security patches, and if not feasible, turn the Bluetooth off when not in use. 
  • Make absolutely sure your Bluetooth device has the discovery mode turned off; most devices allow this change. Keeping the device undiscoverable keeps it invisible to attackers.
  • Never accept strange messages, and never click on an unknown attachment. These types of links download malware directly to your machine and may initiate data theft on a larger scale. 
  •  Always pay close attention to the activity of your device. If your phone disconnects and reconnects on its own, this may indicate someone is controlling your phone. Start uninstalling apps until you find the culprit. Resetting the device back to its factory settings can be a headache, but it will clear out any malware that may be present. 
  • Any sudden spikes in data usage beyond normal are another sign attackers may have access to your device. Data spikes may also indicate your device is part of a botnet eating your information.

Use smart, common-sense efforts to keep a device safe. Keep certain areas of your phone off when not in use, or turn them off in public places like shopping malls or restaurants. If those efforts are not possible, turn off discovery mode.

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