How Snoops Can Track Your Wearables and Phone From Half A Mile Away

How Snoops Can Track Your Wearables and Phone From Half A Mile Away

Bluetooth can rat out your location, researchers say.

Bluetooth is everywhere these days—from your Android Wear smartwatch and fitness tracker, to the iPhone in your pocket. Thanks to the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) profile, they can connect to each other easily without draining your battery power.

All those wireless connections, however, could make irresistible targets for hackers and snoops, who—say researchers at Context Information Security—could use the same signals to track your location remotely.

See also: Your “Strong” Password May Be Weaker Than You Think

In other words, the same technologies we use to count our steps can also give away our locations to outside parties.

How Bluetooth Location Tracking Can Bite Back

Bluetooth Low Energy devices announce their presence, sending out signals so that other gadgets can pair with them. This form of broadcasting or “advertising” allows for the primary line of communication between your smartwatch or step counter and smartphone, or iBeacons used in stores, so they can send promotions to your iPhone, based on where you are in a store.

The team cobbled together various “sniffers” to pick up transmissions. In one case, it used cheap hardware, Nordic Semiconductors’ NRF51 chip, as an add-on dongle for a laptop; in another, it created a mobile app to scan for devices from Android smartphones. In one session, the group detected 149 devices—including 26 FitBits, 2 Jawbones, some Nike products, an Estimote iBeacon, an Alcatel Pop C5, and several iPhones.

The researchers ratcheted up the range using a high-gain antennae, going from an open-air area of about 100 meters to as far as roughly 800 meters (about half of a mile).
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