Is Bluetooth Safe? How Bluetooth Hacking Happens and How to Prevent It

Bluetooth technology has become standard among smart devices and phones, but does it do anything to keep your personal data safe?
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Bluetooth technology uses radio waves to connect two or multiple devices wirelessly, and it allows for the transferring and sharing of data. Using Bluetooth, you can connect your headphones to your phone without using a cable, for instance. It also allows you to transfer files between smart devices, monitor your vitals via fitness trackers, and even unlock your front door with your phone.

Many people use Bluetooth every day because it is convenient, but is it completely safe and secure? As with any wireless technology, Bluetooth is not entirely safe from hacking. In this article, we will discuss warning signs of hacking, the different types of hacks to know about, and safety tips to keep in mind when using Bluetooth (including the best antivirus software and other products to stay safe).

In this article
Is Bluetooth safe to use?
Bluetooth hacking warning signs
Five types of Bluetooth hacks
Bluejacking
BlueBorne
Bluebugging
Bluetooth impersonation attacks
Bluesnarfing
How to use Bluetooth safely
How can I block hackers from my phone?
Bluetooth FAQs
Bottom line

Is Bluetooth safe to use?

With so many devices equipped with multiple forms of wireless technology, it’s increasingly important to know the various risks involved with wireless. Most smart devices we carry with us today are likely to contain a plethora of personally identifiable information (PII), which can be accessed and used for hacking purposes and — in extreme cases — identity theft under the right circumstances.

On paper, Bluetooth technology is fairly secure. Devices need to be authorized by the user for connection, need to be in close proximity to one another (10 to 30 feet), and the connection can be broken by moving out of range or behind walls.

Bluetooth also implements a technique known as “frequency hopping spread spectrum” by which the device will switch frequencies hundreds of times per second. This not only makes it possible for the Bluetooth connection to be strong and reliable, but it also makes it harder for hackers to access the exact frequency the device is using.

Despite all these preventative measures, Bluetooth still remains susceptible to hacking attacks. Furthermore, popular apps that most people use daily — including Facebook and Google — use your device’s Bluetooth to monitor your location, even when you turn Bluetooth off. App makers can essentially track anywhere you go and keep a log of your daily movement and routines.

Bluetooth hacking warning signs

Unfortunately, Bluetooth hacking can happen to anyone, and the methods used by today’s hackers are designed to go unnoticed. Identifying the hack is usually only possible after it has taken place. Thankfully there are almost always clear indications that a device has been hacked. Here are some warning signs to look for in case you’ve been hacked and didn’t realize it.

  • Data usage: If you notice your cell phone bill going up, check your data usage. Sometimes hackers will use a hacked phone to make long-distance calls. They will also send your data back to themselves or install malicious background processes, which would increase data use.
  • Battery life: Keep an eye out for your battery running unusually low. Hackers accessing your device remotely and using it without your knowledge, or having malware running in the background will use much more power — and in some cases, get your battery to run hot.
  • Unauthorized access: Check your emails and various online accounts for signs of unauthorized access or attempts to log in from unknown locations or devices.
  • Text messages: Be on the lookout for strange, incoming text messages from unknown numbers — especially if they contain links — and outgoing text messages sent from your mobile device that you didn’t send.
  • Unknown apps: If you’ve noticed apps appearing on your device that you don’t remember installing, this could be a sign of a hack.
  • Strange behavior: This could be anything out of the ordinary, like your mobile phone running unusually slow all of a sudden, apps not working as they usually do, or your phone constantly crashing.

Five types of Bluetooth hacks

In order for a Bluetooth connection to be possible, devices need to be in range of one another. The connection can be broken by moving outside of range or even behind walls or obstacles.

This makes it necessary for a hacker to be within close range of a target and maintain that range and connection for the duration of the hack. Crowded public places — especially ones where people tend to remain stationary longer, such as coffee shops or restaurants — have become popular spots for Bluetooth hackers. Keep in mind that while most Bluetooth ranges max out at around 30 feet, these cybercriminals have been known to carry out attacks from hundreds of feet away.

Here are the five most common Bluetooth hacks.

Bluejacking

Known to be the least damaging of all Bluetooth hacks, Bluejacking involves one Bluetooth-enabled device exploiting a Bluetooth connection to send anonymous messages to another Bluetooth-enabled device. This tactic is usually nothing more than an annoyance, but if the recipient were to click any link inside one of these spam messages, they could risk unknowingly installing malware on their device.

BlueBorne

BlueBorne is an attack in which hackers leverage Bluetooth connections in order to take complete control over target devices. The hackers do not need to pair with the target devices, nor do they need the devices to be in discoverable mode. Once they have control of a device, they can use that device to steal data, initiate ransomware, and even spread malware to nearby devices imitating an airborne virus (hence the name “BlueBorne”).

Bluebugging

Bluebugging is known throughout the security community to be one of the more damaging Bluetooth attacks, as it allows hackers to take complete control of a device once successful. In this attack, hackers will create a secret Bluetooth connection — a backdoor of sorts — with the target device, the same way one might bug a phone.

Once this connection is established, hackers can access sensitive information, listen in on and make phone calls, reply to text messages, and even impersonate the victim on banking apps — all without alerting the owner.

Bluetooth impersonation attacks

Classified as man-in-the-middle (or MITM) attacks, Bluetooth impersonation attacks (BIAS) attempt to trick two devices that have already established connections. The attacker impersonates each individual device to the other, forcing a specific connection type in which the attacker gains control of any communication between the two devices.

Once hacked, the attacker can access and even alter any communication between the two devices. This attack is notable in that the attacker does not need to be present when the target devices originally are paired.

Bluesnarfing

Bluesnarfing is similar to Bluejacking in the way that it hijacks the Bluetooth connection of a device without alerting the device owner — sometimes up to 300 feet away. However, instead of simply sending the target device messages, hackers using Bluesnarfing can access and steal any information stored on the device, including contact information, emails, passwords, and other sensitive PII.

How to use Bluetooth safely

Knowing the risks involved when using Bluetooth and the type of cyberattacks that are possible can help even the playing field when protecting your gadgets and data. Here is a list of considerations and best practices when using Bluetooth.

  • Update and patch all your devices when possible: Device and software manufacturers notice many of Bluetooth's vulnerabilities, so they will release regular security updates to help keep your device protected.
  • Disable Bluetooth when not in use: When your Bluetooth is active but not in use, it will search for a device to pair with. This gives hackers an open window to try and crawl through.
  • Beware of unknown devices requesting to pair: Sometimes gaining access to a device can be as easy as asking permission to enter. Be aware that some hackers will simply attempt to gain access through old-fashioned pairing straight to your device. Always decline pairing requests from unknown devices.
  • Change Bluetooth settings to “not discoverable”: While there are some attacks that can still be performed while your device is not discoverable, they are increasingly rare as security updates roll out. By setting your Bluetooth to “not discoverable,” you are severely limiting the means by which hackers can access your device.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: If you are about to enter a crowded environment such as a cafe or mall, keep your Bluetooth disabled or — if your device allows it — hidden, which is a separate function from “not discoverable” that allows you to leave Bluetooth on and use it while not being detectable. Make a concerted effort to only pair devices at home or at least away from crowds.
  • Don’t share sensitive information: This is especially true when out in public or in crowded environments. Any personal data such as bank information, photos, or passwords should only be shared at home or on a known safe network.
  • Unpair or forget unused or unknown devices: If you look in your device’s Bluetooth settings, you will probably notice a long list of unpaired devices. Take the time to go through that list and remove any devices you no longer use, especially if they were lost or stolen.
  • Use strong and varied passwords across all your accounts: It cannot be overstated how important it is to have strong passwords and use varied ones across different accounts. While this may not prevent a Bluetooth hack attempt, it can greatly limit a hacker’s ability to access multiple accounts if you aren’t using the same password across them all.

How can I block hackers from my phone?

In addition to our above list of best safety practices for using Bluetooth, consider investing in an antivirus program: Antivirus programs are designed from the ground up with hackers and current hacking trends in mind. Keeping an updated antivirus program significantly increases your device's security protocol. If you're in the market for an antivirus app for your phone, here are some recommendations:

  • Bitdefender: Bitdefender offers a free Android plan and affordable premium plans for Android and iOS. The premium apps come with web protection, security scans, account privacy alerts, and a virtual private network (VPN) to keep your phone secure.
    Get Bitdefender | Read Our Bitdefender Review
  • Norton: Norton Mobile Security is a great premium security app for Android. It received a perfect score from AV-TEST for protection, performance, and usability.
    Get Norton | Read Our Norton 360 Review
  • McAfee: McAfee's mobile app offers phishing and spyware protection for iPhone users. It also has a system scan that looks for the latest operating system updates, so your device can always be up-to-date on the latest cyberthreats. 
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Here are other tips for increasing security on your devices:

  • Invest in a VPN: Using a VPN alongside antivirus can offer the highest level of security for your device. While the VPN protects by concealing your IP address as well as encrypting any data coming in or going out of your device, your antivirus will catch and stop any malware that might sneak in via downloading a file, for instance.
  • Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) when available: A simple yet useful tool for security, 2FA can greatly hinder and even halt a hack attempt.
  • Avoid suspicious apps, programs, websites, and emails: Sometimes, you have to trust your gut; other times, the writing is on the wall. If something such as an email, website, or app seems suspicious, avoid interacting with it. Always default to using trusted sources when downloading and installing apps or programs to your device.

Bluetooth FAQs


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Should Bluetooth be on or off?

While keeping Bluetooth on can be convenient, it can compromise your device's security. Always keep Bluetooth off until you know you’ll need it or if you are in a familiar and safe environment.


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How can I tell if my Bluetooth is hacked?

If you suspect your Bluetooth device has been hacked, try checking for the following:

  • Quick battery drainage
  • Data usage going up unexpectedly
  • Unknown apps appearing seemingly out of nowhere or changes to your configuration
  • Strange behavior from devices or apps
  • Unauthorized attempts to access email or other accounts from unknown devices
  • Receiving strange text messages with links to click, or messages having been sent without your knowledge
  • Phone calls made without your knowledge

  • +

    Is having Bluetooth turned on a security risk?

    Using Bluetooth, especially in certain scenarios (like crowded public settings) will always come with some degree of risk. It is up to you to keep your data and personal information safe. Be mindful of when you turn Bluetooth on and off and remember best safe practices so you can mitigate possible threats to your data.

    Bottom line

    Bluetooth is a wonderful technology that can make our lives easier. Unfortunately, as a wireless technology, it is susceptible to malicious hackers — especially when you consider how much sensitive information users store on smartphones. Always keep these cybersecurity best practices in mind when you use Bluetooth to ensure you are keeping your PII safe:

    • Update and patch all your devices when available.
    • Disable Bluetooth when not in use.
    • Never pair with unknown devices.
    • Change your Bluetooth setting to “not discoverable” and “hidden” if available.
    • Don’t share sensitive information or pair devices in crowds.
    • Remove unused, lost, or unknown devices from your list of Bluetooth devices.
    • Use strong and varied passwords across all your accounts and devices.

    If you want to learn more about how to stay secure across the web, check out our guide on the best VPNs to secure your traffic and keep you anonymous online.

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    Author Details
    Juliana Kenny is a seasoned writer with over 14 years of experience writing for cybersecurity topics. Holding a B.A. in both English and French, her work explores the convergence of security and technology. She specializes in endpoint security, cloud security, and networking technologies like secure access service edge (SASE).