Why Bluetooth fitness trackers 'threaten your privacy'

Using Bluetooth Low Energy can reveal your identity to the masses

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a threat to privacy, a security researcher has claimed, pointing to the potential for fitness trackers to be hacked.

Scott Lester, a researcher at Context, has uncovered a concept known as Bluesniping, which can be used to intercept devices if the hacker has the means to do so, allowing them to find out who a device belongs to.

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As people rarely take off fitness tracking devices, some authorities have become concerned about the privacy of such devices, including the Chinese government.

While BLE technology has been very successful in reducing the power consumption of such peripherals, because they are constantly broadcasting information.

Meanwhile, the connection travels much further than traditional Bluetooth, meaning the data they are transmitting can be detected better than the original Bluetooth technology.

"What is obvious is that many of these devices contain very personal information about someone's health and patterns of life, which can lead to amusing measurements, but also represent a wealth of data about an individual," Lester said.

"Whilst many people are very happy to publish such information to social media others would be very protective of it."

However, he added that manufacturers are not doing enough to prevent people hacking into devices in the rush to get their watches, bands and other fitness mechanisms to market.

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Lester said: "Scanning for these broadcasts is easy either with cheap hardware or with a smartphone. This allows us to identify and locate particular devices, which for devices such as fitness trackers that are designed to be worn all the time, means that we can identify and locate a person, to within a limited range.

"There are clear implications to privacy, just as there are ways that this technology could be exploited for social engineering and crime."

In addition to devices like fitness trackers, the Internet of Things (IoT) will see retailers introduce shopping beacons, which use BLE to ping offers to shoppers' smartphones, making the technology more widely used than it is currently.

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