What is Bluesnarfing and How to Prevent It?

  • By Bryan Lee
  • Aug 21, 2023

What Is Bluesnarfing

We hate cables. Because of this, Bluetooth has rapidly become an integral part of daily life. Wireless headphones and smartwatches are prominent examples, but today, even our washing machines and light bulbs can connect to our phones.

Bluetooth allows people to use their devices as a universal remote. However, this convenience comes with potential security risks. Among these many dangers is "Bluesnarfing."

What is Bluesnarfing?

Bluesnarfing is a cyberattack that targets Bluetooth devices to gain access and steal sensitive information. Since most Bluetooth devices connect to a phone, stealing information like photos, text messages, emails, and financial information is simple. In some cases, Bluesnarfing can grant the attacker complete control over the compromised device.

Under the right conditions, this type of cyber attack is easier to pull off than traditional hacking. Unlike hacking, Bluesnarfing doesn't have to break through a secure network but instead uses the fragile security used by Bluetooth pairing.

Bluetooth is much more secure nowadays, and Bluesnarfing is much less common. Modern Bluetooth devices have integrated authentication processes, so it's primarily older devices that are vulnerable.

How a Bluesnarfing Attack Works?

There are a few requirements for carrying out a Bluesnarfing attack. The attacker has to be in range to Bluetooth pair with your device. This distance can be anywhere up to 300 feet for a commercial product. However, most Bluesnarfing attempts occur within 20 feet of the target device.

The next requirement is access to a Bluesnarfing tool that can exploit a device's object exchange protocol (OBEX). This software can be purchased from the dark web, or skilled hackers can program it themselves.

OBEX's initial purpose was to make it easier to exchange contact information by connecting two phones, allowing devices to form a connection without authentication. Attackers scan for any nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices and attempt to pair with them. This connection can be leveraged to access and download personal data without the victim knowing about the data breach.

Why Bluesnarfing Poses a Serious Threat?

Falling victim to a Bluesnarfing attack puts you at significant risk. Consequences like identity theft and even criminal charges are on the table depending on the information stolen. Not only that, but it could also put your professional life in jeopardy. Below are a few issues that can arise after a Bluesnarfing attack.

Corporate Espionage

Many people don't differentiate between personal and work devices. Unfortunately, this means that some critical work-related documents are woefully unprotected. Criminals can steal corporate emails, future plans, and contracts. This information can be used to blackmail or otherwise damage entire organizations.

Identity Theft

Many states have adopted official digital versions of identification, including Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, and Maryland. This means that many people keep vital information stored on their smartphones. Apart from selling your ID on the dark web, there are many ways to use one piece of identification to access and forge others, such as birth certificates and passports.

Even if you don't keep identification in your phone, enterprising criminals can do a lot of damage with just your photo albums, text messages, and browser history. Losing all that information can also put your friends and family in danger.

Loss of Accounts

Attackers can steal the login credentials of accounts your phone automatically logs into. The attacker could then solicit illegal activities through your identity or make unauthorized transactions in just a few minutes.

This risk is why it's so important that everyone uses random and strong password generator for every necessary account. While it's challenging to keep track of all of them, password managers are a convenient and secure way to keep everything organized.

What Are the Signs of a Bluesnarfing Attack?

Signs of a Bluesnarfing Attack

Bluesnarfing attacks are typically stealth operations. Many start and end without the user noticing, but there are a few red flags that might indicate your device has been broken into. Some of these signs include:

Sudden Drop in Battery Percentage

If you turn on your phone and notice its battery drained 20 percent while sitting in your pocket, it could be a sign that it's been compromised. A criminal could be running applications or leaking data leading to the decreased life of the battery.

Unauthorized Bluetooth Pairings

Periodically checking your Bluetooth settings may be a good idea if you're in a public or crowded place. If you notice an unknown connection, then it could indicate a Bluesnarfing attack.

Unfamiliar Calls or Messages

Unless you're a texting fiend, you should recognize the conversations on your phone. If you see unfamiliar outgoing calls, it could be an attempt by the attacker to steal your login credentials. Criminals can use your phone as proof of identity and trick service providers into releasing your information.

How to Prevent a Bluesnarfing Attack?

Thankfully, Bluesnarfing is easy to defend against. Here are some precautions you can take to protect your devices and safeguard your personal information.

Update Operating Systems

Current operating systems are constantly locating and patching problems as they arise. An entire industry called "bug bounty hunting" even pays developers to identify weak points. On occasions when criminals find a new exploit, they have a concise window to act on it as long as you stay on top of your updates.

Take Your Device Off Discover Mode

Criminals can only pair with your device if it's in visibility mode. This is a state where it's searching for new devices to pair with. It's easy to forget to disable this setting after pairing a new device, but leaving it enabled is like parking your car with the windows down. You're inviting trouble.

Be Cautious in Public Places

Take extra care when in crowded areas like airports or coffee shops. Check the connected devices list in your settings before using it. If you don't need your device, then it's safest to turn it off.

While Bluesnarfing is a somewhat dated threat, it's still possible to fall for it today. This risk is only growing due to our more familiar and carefree approach toward Bluetooth security. Following the prevention tips above, you can safely enjoy any device and keep your data secure. If you're unsure whether you're doing enough to safeguard your online safety, don't hesitate to contact us!

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