Bluetooth Signals Can Be Used to Track Smartphones, Say Researchers

Researchers demonstrated a possible way to track individuals via Bluetooth signals.

Researchers warn Bluetooth signals can be used to track device owners via a unique fingerprinting of the radio signal. The technique was presented via a paper presented at IEEE Security and Privacy conference last month by researchers at the University of California San Diego.

The paper suggests that minor manufacturing imperfections in hardware are unique with each device, and cause measurable distortions which can be used as a “fingerprint to track a specific device”.

“To perform a physical-layer fingerprinting attack, the attacker must be equipped with a Software Defined Radio sniffer: a radio receiver capable of recording raw IQ radio signals,” said researchers in a paper (PDF) titled “Evaluating Physical-Layer BLE Location Tracking Attacks on Mobile Devices.”

Gadgets such as smartwatches, fitness trackers, and smartphones transmit a signal called Bluetooth beacons with an average rate of 500 beacons per minute. These constantly transmitting signals enable the functionality for lost device tracking and COVID-19 tracing apps.

The critical insight from the researchers is that Bluetooth can also be used for tracking “in a highly accurate way”, as the previously known wireless fingerprints use to

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