Is Your Bluetooth Tracking You?

Security conferences are an invaluable source of insight into the ways that cybercriminals operate, but they also highlight the “what ifs” of tech-based threats.

These potential methods of criminal activity might not have been used in a reported cyber crime yet, but there’s an excellent chance that if the researchers have discovered them and are demonstrating them for the industry, then criminals already know about them, too.

At one recent conference, researchers demonstrated a surprising new twist on a technology that many of us use every day. Bluetooth capabilities allow our devices to connect with each other wirelessly, like talking on our phones in hands-free mode while we drive or printing a document without plugging in a cable. This same capability, though, can be used to track our movements without our knowledge.

Because Bluetooth devices have a unique identification number, it only takes a few simple pieces of readily available, inexpensive hardware to create a device that scans the vicinity for Bluetooth signatures. While it would require the user to physically be in the area to get your signal, researchers found that it would take very little effort to set up multiple scanning devices within a geographic area and use it to follow your trail.

There’s another consideration to keep in mind, and that’s the Bluetooth identifiers in our vehicles.

Things like the tire sensor that alerts you to low air pressure are working via Bluetooth, and as such, a hacker could potentially track your vehicle in real time, down to the hour and the minute you left home and the route you traveled.

While that isn’t a pleasant thought, there are admittedly some harmless reasons why someone would want to track you via Bluetooth, like when you receive a notification message that says you're near a Starbucks. However, it’s also important to note that there aren’t a lot of reasons why someone would want to do something malicious with this capability. We could become somewhat paranoid and envision various scenarios, but they aren’t entirely realistic.

So what’s the takeaway for the public?

It’s important to know that the technology works like this and that someone could come up with a way to use your own device to harm you. It’s always important to understand what privacy considerations we’re giving up when we adopt new technology. Fortunately, just like avoiding public wifi connections over concerns about hacking, if you are concerned that someone is tracking you in this way, simply turn off the Bluetooth on your device when you’re not using it.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: It Only Takes Minutes for a Thief to Use Your Data

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