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Bluetooth Technology Might Be Making Phones Easier To Trace, Says University of California Study

A recently discovered vulnerability in Bluetooth technology may allow cyber criminals to track the location of other devices.

Bluetooth is a technology that's been relevant since the 2000's, and continues to be so, albeit in a different manner. Winding the clock a few decades back, Bluetooth used to be a form of device to device connection that users could utilize in order to send each other important stuff that wouldn't fit into text messages, with documents, videos, audio clips, and pirated songs being some of the relevant examples (even if this author doesn't necessarily approve of that last one). However, with the advent of apps such as WhatsApp and Google Drive, and email becoming more and more sophisticated and accessible on mobile devices, this facet of Bluetooth functionality was made redundant.

One would expect that with its primary purpose done for, the technology would fade away. In this case, not at all! In fact, Bluetooth persevered and found a new niche for itself to act within: connecting with other devices. With wireless everything becoming more and more hip, Bluetooth became an easy way to connect with wireless speakers and earphones. With companies such as Bose and Apple really pushing the advertising on their speakers and AirPods, Bluetooth never ran out of relevancy. It's still here to continue, and will be for quite the while. Even if the tech is plagued by worrying issues pointed out at the start of this article.

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) conducted a research into fingerprint devices that housed Bluetooth Low Energy technology. BLE is a form of Bluetooth that reduces a device's power consumption while sacrificing band width. The lower power does mean that mobile devices are expected to keep pinging a signal, which is also where the vulnerability joins the chat. Researchers found that each individual signal was unique in it's own way, and therefore easily traceable. Field tests found only a 5% incidence of false positives and negatives in device tracking.

However, this research does have parameters that make practical application of device tracking complicated, to say the least. First of all, device temperature affects the overall signal, and therefore tracking requires surrounding conditions to be controlled. Secondly, some BLE chips emit similar signals, making differentiation difficult. Finally, while BLE is definitely useful in it's own right, the technology is hardly necessary and therefore isn't always active.


Read next: Study Shows 10% of People Have Clicked on Phishing Links While on Their Phones

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