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How shall I own your mobile phone today?

Bluesnarfing, bluejacking, bluebugging

Comment It pains me to give this woman any more publicity, but Paris Hilton and her cracked cell phone, the Sidekick II, really woke a lot of people up. For those of you who recently returned from a stay in a monastary somewhere high up in the Himalayas, last month Paris Hilton had her Sidekick II hacked and the contents spread all over the Internet. We're talking some hot stuff here: private phone numbers of celebrities, childishly-written notes revealing all sorts of interesting personal and business details, and photos, including several nude pix (I'm not going to provide the link; just search Google and you'll be able to find everything).

[Note: Although there's still some question as to just how Paris Hilton's phone was compromised, it seems that the answer to her security question wasn't that hard to guess: "What is your favorite pet's name?" Anyone who knows anything about Paris knows about her little chihuahua, Tinkerbell.]

That's pretty bad. I mean, here's this famous person, and her phone gets brutally hacked and her whole life - and those of many others - is completely disrupted, and everyone knows all about it. What do you think happened when people found out? Was there an en masse switch away from the Sidekick II?

Of course not, silly! We're talking about your every day end users here. According to the gossip blog Gawker, after the Paris Hilton incident, sales of the Sidekick II skyrocketed in New York, selling out in many stores. That's right. People specifically wanted the same phone that had just been hacked. Why? Perhaps part of the reason was because a celebrity used it, I'm sure, but more because with the added publicity they now knew about all the cool features built in to the Sidekick II phone, like notes, photos, and the like.

As a window into the mind of your average Joe, this anecdote is priceless. It's a bit like hearing about the sinking of the Titanic, and then announcing that you're buying a ticket on an ocean liner since you just found out about cruises. It just goes to prove that ordinary people don't give a hoot about security (the fact that one-third of email users have clicked on links in spam, and one in ten have actually bought crap advertised in spam, only reinforces my assertion).

That's really not good considering the specific devices we're talking about here: modern cell phones, which have now morphed far beyond simple telephone devices into Personal Information Managers, cameras, and networking devices as well. If security pros tear their hair out now trying to safeguard users' computers, I predict we'll all be completely bald trying to manage the new super cell phones that everyone is going to have in a short time.

How shall I own your phone today?

There are just so many interesting attack vectors for cell phones. To start with, there's the obvious threat of physical theft. It's one thing for a thief to heft a desktop box out of your office building, and it's easier to grab a laptop, but even my Mom can sneak a cell phone out past your guards (and she'll be out of jail in just a few months, thank goodness... just kidding, Mom!).

As I've discussed before, you can set phones up so that they appear to be off, leave the phone behind - say, in a conference room - and then call the phone and imperceptibly turn on the speakerphone, allowing you to hear everything said while you're out of the room. Even criminals know about phones that go into "ghost" mode. Yes, there are solutions, but how many of you have them as a line item in your budget?

And then we have Bluetooth. I'm not going to begin declaring that the sky is falling, and that Bluetooth on cell phones means that we're all doomed. However, it would be imprudent not to evince some concern and fail to admit the obvious: Bluetooth can be a security hazard on some phones.

Just a few weeks ago, a security group calling themselves Flexilis made the news. One of their members stood next to the red carpet at the Academy Awards with a laptop and an antenna hidden in his backpack, and the results weren't exactly unsurprising: between 50 and 100 of the celebs were vulnerable to bluesnarfing (ignore the erroneous comparison the article makes between Paris Hilton and the Academy Awards - the techniques used in each situation are completely different).

This isn't the first time Bluetooth has been found to be problematic. The previous link contains a good overview of several ways to attack Bluetooth-enabled devices, including bluesnarfing, bluejacking, bluebugging (similar to the "ghost phone" issue I mentioned above), and the backdoor attack. For more info, also see, which provides details and a list of vulnerable phones. And now that Bluetooth rifles effectively extend the range of the technology from about 33 feet to a full mile (!), things can only get more precarious. It would be worth your time to read these web pages and familiarize yourself with Bluetooth and its problems, as well as its advantages.

That's right: advantages. Bluetooth is ultra-cool, that's for sure. Automatically syncing phone contacts with computer contacts is undeniably attractive to the busy info worker on the go, and wireless headsets are also really nice. Bluetooth is just too useful to go away, but it's up to security pros to educate users about the dangers of Bluetooth-enabled cell phones and, in fact, non-Bluetooth phones as well. As cell phones grow even more ubiquitous (is that even possible?) and yet more powerful, people are going to store greater quantities of very valuable information on them, just as they grow potentially more accessible to bad guys. When it comes to cell phones, we're going to need to keep our eyes - and ears - on them constantly ... except when we're driving, of course.

Scott Granneman is a senior consultant for Bryan Consulting Inc. in St. Louis. He specializes in Internet Services and developing Web applications for corporate, educational, and institutional clients.

Copyright © 2004, SecurityFocus logo

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