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What Is Bluebugging?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Bluebugging is a type of attack that can occur using Bluetooth® links. Once an illicit link has been established, an attacker may be able to view personal data or take control of a device. Initial attacks centered on connecting to Bluetooth® enabled computers, though the focus later shifted to phones. Some bluebugging can require a previous connection to have been established between the two devices, though other techniques can take advantage of security weaknesses. These attacks are typically limited in range due to the nature of Bluetooth® radios, but booster antennas can be used to take control of devices that are further away.

Bluetooh® is a wireless protocol that can allow two devices to connect and share information. This type of connection is referred to as pairing, and it sometimes requires that a special code be input into one or both of the devices. Bluetooth® connections are typically considered to be somewhat secure due to the pairing mechanic, but a number of different vulnerabilities have been exploited. Bluesnarfing is an activity that involves an illicit data connection that is used to read or download private information, while bluejacking is used to place unsolicited advertisements and other message onto devices. Bluebugging can be the most invasive of these activities, since it may be used to actually take control of a device.

The actual process of bluebugging can differ from one phone to another because it typically takes advantage of specific vulnerabilities. Some phones have been released with improper Bluetooth® implementations that facilitated these types of attacks. In other cases, the two devices may need to be physically paired through normal means before an attack can occur. It is also sometimes possible for the personal identification number (PIN) of a phone or other device to be compromised either through a brute force attack or other more subtle means.

After the initial attack has caused a target device to become paired, bluebugging techniques can take complete control of the device. This type of connection can allow the attacker to read or download information stored on the phone, as is done with bluesnarfing, or send commands. If a command is sent for the phone to place a call, then it will do so. This can be used to illicitly listen in on a conversation if the phone is set to call the attacker. In other cases a bluebugging attack can be used to send text messages, set up call forwarding, or perform virtually any other function the target device is capable of.

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