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12/3/2004
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Bluetooth: Handy, But Worrisome

The cheap, low-power radio connection known as Bluetooth is increasingly appearing in smart phones and other mobile devices, making it easier to connect phones, PDAs, headsets, printers, and notebooks to each other. Cell-phone makers tout being able to wirelessly sync contacts on a PC and smart phone. Yet at the same time, security concerns about the communication protocol are on the rise.

Worldwide shipments of Bluetooth chipsets hit 35.8 million units in 2002, market research firm In-Stat/MDR says, and it's projecting 74% annual growth in Bluetooth chipsets through 2007. More than half of all new cell phones purchased next year will come with Bluetooth capability, market analysts predict.

During the past year, security researchers have demonstrated how it's possible to steal data such as Short Message Service messages, phone books, and scheduling information through an attack called Bluesnarfing. Another attack, known as Bluebugging, involves using a Bluetooth connection to remotely commandeer a phone and have the phone call the attacker. Once the connection is made, the attacker can eavesdrop on the phone's owner.

When Mikko Hypponen, director of antivirus research at F-Secure Corp., tests Bluetooth-capable worms to see how easily they spread, you'd think he was handling radioactive material. "Testing these things is tricky. We can't test them in normal labs," he says. "These can fly through walls, and the sales guy one floor up may have Bluetooth and get infected. When we test these things for real we go to a radio-proof lab about a half-kilometer from our office."

Such vulnerabilities are turning some companies away from the technology. "Bluetooth is extremely insecure," says Jeff Nigriny, chief security officer with Exostar LLC, an online exchange. "By policy, we don't allow Bluetooth."

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