Security Researchers Find That Bluetooth Can Be Tracked

Though accuracy is limited by a number of different factors

Researchers from UC San Diego learned how to track individual Bluetooth signals, which poses a privacy and security risk, but tracking isn't 100% accurate across all devices.

A recently-published paper from security researchers at UC San Diego explains that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) isn't as secure as once thought. It turns out that, despite having built-in encryption measures, BLE often produces a unique signal that can still be found and tracked.

Woman using phone being spied by her friend

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BLE is intended to let devices utilize wireless communication connections consistently, with much lower power consumption than regular Bluetooth. Think wireless speakers or earbuds, AirDrop, etc.

The newly-discovered caveat is that devices using BLE (like a smartphone) tend to contain imperfections in the signal, which can work as a sort of fingerprint. Someone with a software-defined radio (SDR) could pick up a BLE signal, then potentially identify it via those imperfections.

While this does present a threat to user security due to the possibility of being tracked despite signal encryption, there are a lot of factors that can affect accuracy. The difference in transmission power between devices, the uniqueness of a given device's fingerprint, or even device temperature can make signals more difficult to track.

Woman using a Smart speaker with smart phone.

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For the moment, there aren't any official fixes that would address BLE's potential for being tracked. However, one potential workaround, for the time being, might be to turn off your device's Bluetooth functionality when it's not in use.

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