Bluetooth devices communicate with mobile apps leaves room for hackers to steal personal information

design flaw bluetooth device could leak personal data

Be it a fitness tracker, smartwatch, smart speaker or smart home assistant, the way Bluetooth devices communicate with the mobile apps leaves room for hackers to steal sensitive personal information, new research has found. An inherent design flaw makes mobile apps that work with Bluetooth Low Energy devices vulnerable to hacking, said the study described at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computer and Communications Security held in London from November 11-15.

design flaw bluetooth device could leak personal data

“There is a fundamental flaw that leaves these devices vulnerable first when they are initially paired to a mobile app, and then again when they are operating,” said Zhiqiang Lin, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University in the US. “At a minimum, a hacker could determine whether you have a particular Bluetooth device, such as a smart speaker, at your home, by identifying whether or not your smart device is broadcasting the particular UUIDs identified from the corresponding mobile apps,” Lin said. “But in some cases in which no encryption is involved or encryption is used improperly between mobile apps and devices, the attacker would be able to ‘listen in’ on your conversation and collect that data.”

Still, that doesn’t mean you should throw your smartwatch away.

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“We think the problem should be relatively easy to fix, and we’ve made recommendations to app developers and to Bluetooth industry groups,” he said. The team reported their findings to developers of vulnerable apps and to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, and created an automated tool to evaluate all of the Bluetooth Low Energy apps in the Google Play Store – 18,166 at the time of their research. In addition to building the databases directly from mobile apps of the Bluetooth devices in the market, the team’s evaluation also identified 1,434 vulnerable apps that allow unauthorised access. Their analysis did not include apps in the Apple Store.

“It was alarming,” he said. “The potential for privacy invasion is high.”