Bluetooth stole my wife's phone call

Bluetooth stole my wife's phone call

Summary: With Bluetooth on, can a device be compromised these days without pairing?

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TOPICS: Mobility, Wi-Fi
13

I've been a fan and user of Bluetooth since before it was relegated to just being for wireless headsets. One of the things I have loved about it is that once it's paired, all you need to get it to work is to have both the headset and the phone turned on and have bluetooth activated. Then seconds later, you're talking wirelessly.

Well, this scenario actually backfired for a friend of mine the other day. It turns out that my friend and his wife were traveling in their own cars but happened to be one in front of the other. My wife was having a conversation with his wife, who was using her iPhone without Bluetooth, when half way through the phone call, all of the sudden my wife's friend's husband was on the call. It turns out that his in-car Bluetooth was paired to his wife's phone and since the cars were one behind the other, his in-car Bluetooth took over the call.

The wild thing about the above situation was how seamless it was. I wasn't on the call but was sitting next to my wife at the time. She was enjoying a conversation with her friend when all of the sudden she said, "hello? Who is this?" In her case, one second she was talking with her friend, and then without any sound or click on the other end, the call was taken over by my wife's friend's husband's in-car Bluetooth.

I know that this case is a weird one since in order for it to happen to anyone else, the phone has to be paired to the other Bluetooth receiver, and the cars have to be one behind the other, but I figured it was a pretty wild story and worth sharing.

The above also got me thinking about Bluecasing or War Nibbling. If you're not familiar with the terms, they are used to describe the act of pairing with someone's phone over Bluetooth and stealing or reading their information. This was big news in the Pocket PC days but I haven't heard about it lately. I'm not sure if it's because the security has gotten better or people are just not aware of it, but I figured maybe if I wrote this article, the readers would chime in.

Have you had an experience where Bluetooth didn't work the way you expected it to? Or where your phone was compromised via Bluetooth? Share in the comments below.

Topics: Mobility, Wi-Fi

Joel Evans

About Joel Evans

With more than 15 years of mobile, Internet and wireless experience, Joel specializes in taking existing brands and technologies into the mobile and wireless space. Joel is currently the VP of Strategy Integration for Mobiquity, an enterprise-class mobile solutions provider.

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13 comments
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  • Funny story .... but I don't see a problem

    The service worked as designed. She can turn off the auto-connect option to prevent this from happening .... but then she will have to manually make the connection every time she is in her car.

    The question is why is her phone also hooked to your car? Unless she is the driver on your car on a regular basis, there was no need to have her connected on your car. She can manually answer calls while being a passenger.
    wackoae
    • Not uncommon

      It's not uncommon, especially for tech-savvy families.

      It's also not uncommon for families to have joint ownership of property rather than "his" or "her" car. Many families may have one large family vehicle for longer trips and one smaller vehicle for every day use.
      CobraA1
  • Well

    Well, security has gotten better - you need to have the right code to pair these days, and devices won't pair automatically, you need to actively put them into a special pairing mode. So I don't think "Bluecasing or War Nibbling" is really all that practical anymore, because the manufacturers have (mostly) wised up.

    Interesting story, though.
    CobraA1
    • you obviously have not used bluetooth in the last 6 years...

      I have not even had a device in the last 6 years that had the pairing code printed in the manual, let alone have my phone or computer ask for a code. not since WinMo 5
      aiellenon
  • regulation?

    Bluetooth is not regulated for only wireless headset use. There are standards for Bluetooth profiles that define what each device can do like file transfer or headset. Then each manufacturer decides which profiles to include. Many cell phone carriers try to limit which profiles can be implemented so they can sell more of their own services. The regulation would effect paring devices to provide a certain level of security. It is not perfect but will keep uneducated curious people from listening in. A true hacker will always find a way in...
    lgwhitlock@...
    • lgwhitlock needs to re-read the first sentence.

      The word he used was relegated, not regulated.
      troidus
  • Pairing

    If the phone had been paired with the BT in the car and had a BT earpiece paired up as well, the phone might have shifted between the devices if the earpiece had a momentary signal level change. The phone might have perceived the signal drop as an indication to switch to the other available pairing.
    Byterat
  • Inadvertent Bluetooth switching

    My cousin got a new phone. But soon after getting it, it kept dropping out while she was in a call at her house. It got bad enough that she took it back and got a new phone. Soon after getting the new phone, it started happening again. She had a Jabra visor speaker for hands free in the car. It's rarely turned off. When ever it was parked in the driveway and she was in the living room, it would randomly connect and take over her call. There was nothing wrong with the phones.
    AMCooper63
  • This happened to me (kinda)

    I was on the front porch on my phone with my brother while my car was warming up out back in the driveway. I came into the house to the kitchen and could no longer hear him. It took a few minutes for me to realize that my in-car bluetooth had taken over once my phone got in range. He didn't think it very funny but I did. He spent a whole 3 minutes talking to my car. When I opened the door to the car I could hear him saying, "Hello?"
    Gotta love technology!
    ylong
  • Unauthorised Bluetooth

    A Friend was driving her Husband's car recently, and while she was stopped at a set of traffic lights, all of a sudden she heard this belching and farting sounds! As well as this stupid rap music!

    What happened was, that someone had managed to paired their phone to the car's built-in Bluetooth! It only lasted a couple of minutes, because as soon as the light's turned green, she drove off, and was out of range, but it did scared the crap out of her!! She turned around and drove straight back home!

    The only trouble with cars with built-in Bluetooth is how do you turn the Bluetooth off? In most cars, you can't!! So they took the car to the local Auto Electrician and had them install an OFF switch so that they can turn it off!
    jhudson2049
  • bluetooth

    One of them must have been tailgating.
    watkins12aa@...
  • All of the Time

    I always have a problem with BT hijacking. I have my headphones paired to my phone and my laptop. Every time I am listening to something on my laptop and my phone rings and I start talking on it eventually my headphones will hijack the call and I am wondering why I cannot hear the other person anymore. What makes me mad is that I sometimes turn the headphones to pair with my phone and it will not and I have to do it manually, but it will religiously hijack my calls with no problems.
    alphaxi3
  • Just happened to me now

    Something similar to alphaxi3's experience has just happened to me. I was listening to music played on my laptop, but suddenly I heard a ringtone I'd never heard. At the same time, my wife's cellphone started to ring. As soon as she took the call up, a guy started to talk in my headset, and I heard my wife's upset voice, "hello? hello?" I immediately understood what was going on and switched my headset off right away, and then my wife was able to talk to the guy.

    I'm puzzled. Why does the bluetooth specification allow this to happen? I thought the "pairing" of two bluetooth devices was like the good old telephone connection: Once two devices establish a connection, no other device can interfere. Why can't bluetooth do this?
    ryofurue