Home Security Bluetooth flaws leave billions of devices open to attacks

Bluetooth flaws leave billions of devices open to attacks

Researchers at IoT security firm Armis say they have found eight flaws in the Bluetooth protocol that can be used to attack devices running Android, iOS, Linux and Windows.

The flaws have been collectively named BlueBorne by the company which detailed its research in a 42-page post.

The attacks do not need any user intervention and can be carried out as long as the attacker is within about 10 metres. They also do not need pairing to be implemented.

The researchers said they were concerned about BlueBorne because it spread through the air. 

"Spreading through the air renders the attack much more contagious, and allows it to spread with minimum effort. Second, it allows the attack to bypass current security measures and remain undetected, as traditional methods do not protect from airborne threats," Armis said. 

"Airborne attacks can also allow hackers to penetrate secure internal networks which are 'air gapped', meaning they are disconnected from any other network for protection. This can endanger industrial systems, government agencies, and critical infrastructure."

The researchers rated three of the flaws they found as critical as they allowed attackers to take over devices, conduct man-in-the-middle attacks or intercept communications over Bluetooth.

Windows Vista and later versions are affected by BlueBorne. Microsoft issued a patch for the vulnerabilities in July as part of its monthly security updates but did not specify that it had done so, instead specifying this only in its September security updates on Tuesday.

Linux kernels since 3.3-rc1 are affected and so are all Linux devices running the BlueZ stack.

Patches were issued for Android by Google in September.

In the case of Apple, devices with iOS 9.3.5 and lower, and AppleTV devices running version 7.2.2 and lower are vulnerable. BlueBorne was patched in iOS 10.

David Dufour, senior director of security architecture at security firm Webroot, told iTWire: “BlueBorne is another example of how simple it is for hackers to quickly scan for, and then exploit, open Bluetooth devices.

"The learning curve to scan for Bluetooth devices isn't that much greater than scanning for Wi-Fi access points."

He said for a while, Bluetooth vulnerabilities had died down as the industry responded and fixed known exploits. 

"But this incident may be the tip of the iceberg once again, just as we’ve seen a resurgence in worms, hackers often come back to repurpose the same exploits. Unfortunately in these cases, many connected devices don’t allow for patch management and become easy targets," he added.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.