Bluesnarfing comes from combining the words Bluetooth with snarfing, which is a word used by programmers to refer to copying data in a network without permission.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology that uses radio waves to allow devices to communicate over short distances. Bluetooth eliminates the need for wires to connect devices.
In smartphones, for instance, it allows users to connect their smartphones to a myriad of devices without using wires. From earbuds, computers, speakers, car stereo systems, fitness trackers, smartwatches, and even headphones, all these devices make use of Bluetooth technology to connect to smartphones.
Unknown to many users who regularly have their Bluetooth turned on, this helpful technology can be the Achilles heel exploited by cybercriminals to break into systems and conduct cyber attacks. One way for cybercriminals to exploit Bluetooth in cyber attacks is through bluesnarfing.
Bluesnarfing is a cyber-attack in which an attacker exploits security vulnerabilities in a device’s Bluetooth connection to gain access to a victim’s device and steal sensitive information.
Bluesnarfing relies on exploiting a vulnerability associated with Bluetooth’s Object Exchange(OBEX) protocol. This protocol is used by Bluetooth-enabled devices to communicate with each other.
For a bluesnarfing attack to happen, a device’s Bluetooth function needs to be turned on and the device set to be discoverable by other devices within range. An attacker then pairs with the device, mostly a phone, and gets access to the device. Once access has been established, the attacker can access information such as contacts, photos, passwords, and emails.
In a bluesnarfing attack, attackers can download all the data from a victim’s phone to their device, creating an exact copy of the compromised device. Sensitive data in a victim’s device can be used to defraud victims, commit identity theft and financial fraud, or be sold to other attackers on the dark web.
In addition to accessing and stealing sensitive data, bluesnarfing can enable attackers to install malware on a device. Worse still, bluesnarfing can allow attackers to access the messaging and calling capabilities of a victim’s device.
This means that attackers can use a victim’s phone to message and call other people or divert calls and messages sent to a victim’s phone to a different number. This is where things can go south really quickly for a victim.
An attacker can defraud a victim’s contacts through messages and calls, as the victim won’t know it is an attacker. Additionally, they can tarnish a victim’s reputation by sharing private information with a victim’s contacts or soliciting money from them, posing as the victim.
In a worst-case scenario, the attacker can use a victim’s phone for terrorism or kidnapping activities. An attacker can use a bluesnarfing victim’s phone to make calls and send messages to terrorist or kidnapping victims. This allows the attacker to hide their identities when interacting with victims, such as in requesting a ransom from their victims.
The person whose phone suffered a bluesnarfing attack will be thought to be responsible for the calls and messages. Additionally, attackers can use a victim’s phone to make expensive international calls incurring financial loss to their victims.
In a bluesnarfing attack, victims never know that attackers have gained access to their device, which allows for repeat attacks.
History of Bluesnarfing
Bluesnarfing, the first major security issue reported with Bluetooth technology, was first identified in 2003. In September 2003, Marcel Holtmann, a researcher who was testing the security of Bluetooth, identified that they could be compromised through bluesnarfing.
In November of that same year, Adam Laurie independently identified the same security flaw in Bluetooth devices. Adam released a vulnerability disclosure detailing the vulnerabilities found with Bluetooth-enabled devices and contacted manufacturers of the devices with the vulnerability. Adam’s actions led to the public knowing about bluesnarfing.
In Adam’s vulnerability disclosure, he mentions that he discovered serious flaws in the authentication and data transfer mechanisms on some Bluetooth-enabled devices. The first vulnerability he discovered was that data could be obtained anonymously without the owner’s knowledge or consent in some Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones.
Secondly, Adam noted that the complete memory contents of some mobile phones could be accessed by previously paired devices that have since been removed from the list of paired devices.
The final vulnerability found by Martin Herfurt, who worked together with Adam, was that it was possible to access data, voice, and messaging services by bluesnarfing.
Ever since bluesnarfing was brought to the world’s attention in 2003, hackers have been making software to exploit the vulnerabilities in Bluetooth-enabled devices. One of the most common software used for bluesnarfing is Bluediving which identifies vulnerable devices and provides tools to exploit their vulnerabilities.
Relationship between Bluesnarfing and Bluejacking
Bluejacking and bluesnarfing are both types of cyber attacks that involve the use of Bluetooth technology. However, they involve different types of attacks and have different impacts on the victim.
Bluejacking is a type of attack in which an attacker uses Bluetooth technology to send unauthorized messages or data to a victim’s Bluetooth-enabled device.
This can include messages that appear to come from the victim’s own device or messages that appear to come from an unfamiliar device. Bluejacking is generally considered to be a low-level threat, as it typically does not result in significant harm to the victim.
Bluesnarfing is a more serious type of attack in which an attacker gains unauthorized access to a victim’s Bluetooth-enabled device and steals sensitive information from it. The attacker can use this information for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or financial fraud.
Bluesnarfing attacks can cause significant harm to the victim and can result in financial losses and damage to their reputation.
While bluejacking and bluesnarfing both involve the use of Bluetooth technology, they are distinct types of attacks with different objectives and impacts.
How Bluesnarfing is Done
Since Bluetooth has a limited range of about 30 feet or 10 meters, an attacker first needs to be in close proximity with their victims unless using specialized tools. Bluesnarfers typically target places with many people, such as malls, train stations, and amusement centers.
To execute a bluesnarfing attack, an attacker needs to exploit vulnerabilities in a Bluetooth-enabled device’s object exchange(OBEX) protocol used for information sharing. In the past, attackers would scan for discoverable Bluetooth devices within their range and try pairing with them if they were not protected with a PIN.
However, things are much easier now with software like Bluediving, which provides tools for bluesnarfing. In a bluesnarfing attack with Bluediving, an attacker launches Bluediving, which scans and identifies devices with a vulnerability in their OBEX protocol. The attacks then pair with the vulnerable devices using Bluetooth.
After pairing, Bluediving is used to exploit existing vulnerabilities in the device’s OBEX protocol giving the attacker access to the victim’s device. Bluediving also allows the attacker to download data from the victim’s device and attack their phone number and IMEI number without the victim noticing anything is amiss.
How to Prevent Bluesnarfing
To avoid being a victim of bluesnarfing, implement the following tips to be on the safe side.
Switch off Bluetooth on your phone
When Adam Laurie first discovered bluesnarfing and wrote a vulnerability disclosure on it, he recommended switching off Bluetooth entirely as the safest way to prevent bluesnarfing.
Whereas years have passed since then, the statement still holds true. An attacker utilizing a bluesnarfing attack relies on Bluetooth for their attack to be successful. Switching off Bluetooth completely shuts them off from your device.
Whereas this may seem like an extreme measure, it works effectively. When you’re not using Bluetooth on your device, switch it off to prevent attacks on your device.
Switch off your device’s Bluetooth discoverability option
By default, Bluetooth devices are set to be discoverable to enable other devices to be able to detect and connect to them. However, you can switch off this default behavior from your Bluetooth settings making your device hidden or undiscoverable. This does not necessarily switch off Bluetooth, but it prevents other gadgets from pairing with your phone. This can be helpful in preventing attacks.
However, it is worth noting that while this method reduces the chances of attack, it does not completely prevent it from bluesnarfing.
This method essentially hides a device’s MAC (Media Access Control) address which Bluetooth devices use to identify and communicate. However, determined attackers can use brute force to guess the MAC address to use in a bluesnarfing attack.
Secure your device with a multi-factor authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a security process that requires users to provide multiple forms of identification to verify their identity before they can access a system or service.
MFA is designed to make it more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access to a system or service and to provide an additional layer of protection against cyber attacks.
This can be especially handy in preventing Bluesnarfing by ensuring that only verified users are allowed to connect via the device’s Bluetooth. This works well when used in conjunction with strong passwords and PINs. Additionally, configure your device to require passwords before connecting with other devices.
Multi-factor authentication will also help with damage control in case attackers get access to your device through bluesnarfing, as they will be limited in what they can access.
Do not pair with unknown devices
To prevent bluesnarfing, avoid Bluetooth pairing with devices you are not familiar with. To take it a step further, avoid accepting pairing requests you didn’t initiate, as it could be an attacker. Additionally, verify the device you are about to pair with, as attackers can use familiar names to dupe you into pairing with their device.
To be even safer, avoid pairing Bluetooth devices for the first time in public areas with many other Bluetooth devices available. This prevents an attacker from hijacking the process to pair with your device with your authorization.
Regularly update your device
Phone manufacturers regularly release software updates and patches for their devices. This can be done to fix identified vulnerabilities in systems providing users with better security for their devices. As a user, install software updates whenever they are released.
Additionally, modern devices are better protected from bluesnarfing compared to older ones. Therefore, it is recommended that you get more modern and recent devices to minimize bluesnarfing attacks.
Although limited in its range of attack, bluesnarfing is still a fatal cyber attack. With many people storing sensitive information in their smartphones, a bluesnarfing attack can be a gateway to even bigger cyberattacks using compromised credentials gotten from a victim’s smartphone.
Additionally, bluesnarfing can be used to tarnish someone’s reputation by accessing and leaking personal information or using someone’s phone to make calls and send messages without their knowledge or consent.
Therefore, it is best to do all you can to protect yourself from bluesnarfing. By following the measures and precautions shared in this article, users of Bluetooth-enabled devices can stay steps ahead of bluesnarfing attackers. Remember, it is better to prevent an attack rather than deal with its consequences.