Serious flaws in bluetooth security lead to disclosure of personal data
In November 2003, Adam Laurie of A.L. Digital Ltd. discovered that there are serious flaws in the authentication and/or data transfer mechanisms on some bluetooth enabled devices. Specifically, three vulnerabilities have been found:
Firstly, confidential data can be obtained, anonymously, and without the owner’s knowledge or consent, from some bluetooth enabled mobile phones. This data includes, at least, the entire phonebook and calendar, and the phone’s IMEI.
Secondly, it has been found that the complete memory contents of some mobile phones can be accessed by a previously trusted (“paired”) device that has since been removed from the trusted list. This data includes not only the phonebook and calendar, but media files such as pictures and text messages. In essence, the entire device can be “backed up” to an attacker’s own system.
Thirdly, access can be gained to the AT command set of the device, giving full access to the higher level commands and channels, such as data, voice and messaging. This third vulnerability was identified by Martin Herfurt, and they have since started working together on finding additional possible exploits resulting from this vulnerability.
Finally, the current trend for “Bluejacking” is promoting an environment which puts consumer devices at greater risk from the above attacks.
The SNARF attack:
It is possible, on some makes of device, to connect to the device without alerting the owner of the target device of the request, and gain access to restricted portions of the stored data therein, including the entire phonebook (and any images or other data associated with the entries), calendar, realtime clock, business card, properties, change log, IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity , which uniquely identifies the phone to the mobile network, and is used in illegal phone ‘cloning’). This is normally only possible if the device is in “discoverable” or “visible” mode, but there are tools available on the Internet that allow even this safety net to be bypassed. Further details will not be released at this time (see below for more on this), but the attack can and will be demonstrated to manufacturers and press if required.
The BACKDOOR attack:
The backdoor attack involves establishing a trust relationship through the “pairing” mechanism, but ensuring that it no longer appears in the target’s register of paired devices. In this way, unless the owner is actually observing their device at the precise moment a connection is established, they are unlikely to notice anything untoward, and the attacker may be free to continue to use any resource that a trusted relationship with that device grants access to (but note that so far we have only tested file transfers). This means that not only can data be retrieved from the phone, but other services, such as modems or Internet, WAP and GPRS gateways may be accessed without the owner’s knowledge or consent. Indications are that once the backdoor is installed, the above SNARF attack will function on devices that previously denied access, and without the restrictions of a plain SNARF attack, so we strongly suspect that the other services will prove to be available also.
The BLUEBUG attack:
The bluebug attack creates a serial profile connection to the device, thereby giving full access to the AT command set, which can then be exploited using standard off the shelf tools, such as PPP for networking and gnokii for messaging, contact management, diverts and initiating calls. With this facility, it is possible to use the phone to initiate calls to premium rate numbers, send sms messages, read sms messages, connect to data services such as the Internet, and even monitor conversations in the vicinity of the phone. This latter is done via a voice call over the GSM network, so the listening post can be anywhere in the world. Bluetooth access is only required for a few seconds in order to set up the call. Call forwarding diverts can be set up, allowing the owner’s incoming calls to be intercepted, either to provide a channel for calls to more expensive destinations, or for identity theft by impersonation of the victim.
Although known to the technical community and early adopters for some time, the process now known as “Bluejacking” has recently come to the fore in the consumer arena, and is becoming a popular mechanism for exchanging anonymous messages in public places. The technique involves abusing the bluetooth “pairing” protocol, the system by which bluetooth devices authenticate each other, to pass a message during the initial “handshake” phase. This is possible because the “name” of the initiating bluetooth device is displayed on the target device as part of the handshake exchange, and, as the protocal allows a large user defined name field – up to 248 characters – the field itself can be used to pass the message. This is all well and good, and, on the face of it, fairly harmless, but, unfortunately, there is a down side. There is a potential security problem with this, and the more the practice grows and is accepted by the user community, and leveraged as a marketing tool by the vendors, the worse it will get. The problem lies in the fact that the protocol being abused is designed for information exchange. The ability to interface with other devices and exchange, update and synchronise data, is the raison d’être of bluetooth. The bluejacking technique is using the first part of a process that allows that exchange to take place, and is therefore open to further abuse if the handshake completes and the “bluejacker” successfully pairs with the target device. If such an event occurs, then all data on the target device bacomes available to the initiator, including such things as phone books, calendars, pictures and text messages. As the current wave of PDA and telephony integration progresses, the volume and quality of such data will increase with the devices’ capabilities, leading to far more serious potential compromise. Given the furore that errupted when a second-hand Blackberry PDA was sold without the previous owner’s data having been wiped, it is alarming to think of the consequences of a single bluejacker gathering an entire corporate staff’s contact details by simply attending a conference or camping outside their building or in their foyer with a bluetooth capable device and evil intent. Of course, corporates are not the only potential targets – a bluejacking expedition to, say, The House of Commons, or The US Senate, could provide some interesting, valuable and, who’s to say, potentially damaging or compromising data.
The above may sound alarmist and far fetched, and the general reaction would probably be that most users would not be duped into allowing the connection to complete, so the risk is small. However, in today’s society of instant messaging, the average consumer is under a constant barrage of unsolicted messages in one form or another, whether it be by SPAM email, or “You have won!” style SMS text messages, and do not tend to treat them with much suspicion (although they may well be sceptical about the veracity of the offers). Another message popping up on their ‘phone saying something along the lines of “You have won 10,000 pounds! Enter this 4 digit PIN number and then dial 0900-SUCKER to collect your prize!” is unlikely to cause much alarm, and is more than likely to succeed in many cases.
Workarounds and fixes
We are not aware of any fixes for the SNARF or BLUEBUG attacks at this time, other than to switch off bluetooth.
To permanently remove a pairing, and protect against future BACKDOOR attacks, it seems you must perform a factory reset, but this will, of course, erase all your personal data.
To avoid Bluejacking, “just say no”. 🙂
The above methods work to the best of our knowledge, but, as the devices affected are running closed-source proprietory software, it not possible to verify that without the collaboration of the manufacturers. We therefore make no claims as to the level of protection they provide, and you must continue to use bluetooth at your own risk.
To date the quantity of devices tested is not great. However, due to the fact that they are amongst the most popular brands, we still consider the affected group to be large. It is also assumed that there are shared implementations of the bluetooth stack, so what affects one model is likely to affect others. This table is accurate to the best of our knowledge, but without the cooperation of the manufacturers (which we currently do not have), it is not possible to conduct more extensive validation.
The devices known to be vulnerable at this time are:
(* = NOT Vulnerable)
Make Model BACKDOOR SNARF when Visible SNARF when NOT Visible BUG
Ericsson T68 ? Yes No No
Sony Ericsson R520m ? Yes No ?
Sony Ericsson T68i ? Yes ? ?
Sony Ericsson T610 ? Yes No Yes
Sony Ericsson Z1010 ? Yes ? ?
Sony Ericsson Z600 ? Yes ? ?
Nokia 6310 ? Yes Yes ?
Nokia 6310i Yes Yes Yes Yes
Nokia 7650 Yes No (+) ? No
Nokia 8910 ? Yes Yes ?
Nokia 8910i ? Yes Yes ?
* Siemens S55 No No No No
* Siemens SX1 No No No No
+ We now believe the 7650 is only vulnerable to SNARF if it has already been BACKDOORed.
What is the Philosophy of Full Disclosure, and why are we providing the tools and detailing the methods that allow this to be done? The reasoning is simple – by exposing the problem we are achieving two goals: firstly, to alert users that the dangers exist, in order that they can take their own precautions against compromise, and secondly, to put pressure on manufacturers to rectify the situation. Consumers have a right to expect that their confidential data is treated as such, and is not subject to simple compromise by poorly implemented protocols on consumer devices. Manufacturers have a duty of care to ensure that such protection is provided, but, in practice, commercial considerations will often take precedence, and, given the choice, they may choose to simply supress or hide the problem, or, even worse, push for laws that prevent the discovery and/or disclosure of such flaws. In our humble opinion, laws provide scant consumer protection against the lawless.
However, having said that, in this particular case, we do not feel it is appropriate to follow the normal procedure of liaising with manufacturers and giving them an opportunity to rectify the problem before disclosing to the general public (this is not to say we haven’t contacted them – we have), as there are simply too many of them, and the problem is too widespread to realistically believe that they could either adhere to the strict levels of confidentiality required until the problem has been rectified, or that there is even the possibilty that the problem can be rectified in a reasonable timescale. Also, the volume of data currently at risk is too great to allow the situation to continue unchecked.
Instead, we feel it is more important to achieve our primary goal, and alert the general public to the fact that the problem exists, and to give them the information required to adequetely defend themselves. Fortunately, the defence is relatively simple, and is detailed above. To date we do not have a large selection of phones or other devices to test, so the advice is somewhat generic, but we will publish more detailed information as and when it becomes available.
Proof of concept utilities have been developed, but are not yet available in the wild. They are:
bluestumbler – Monitor and log all visible bluetooth devices (name, MAC, signal strength, capabilities), and identify manufacturer from MAC address lookup.
bluebrowse – Display available services on a selected device (FAX, Voice, OBEX etc).
bluejack – Send anoymous message to a target device (and optionally broadcast to all visible devices).
bluesnarf – Copy data from target device (everything if pairing succeeds, or a subset in other cases, including phonebook and calendar. In the latter case, user will not be alerted by any bluejack message).
bluebug – Set up covert serial channel to device.
Tools will not be released at this time, so please do not ask. However, if you are a bona-fide manufacturer of bluetooth devices that we have been otherwise unable to contact, please feel free to get in touch for more details on how you can identify your device status.
The above vulnerabilities were discovered by Adam Laurie, during the course of his work with A.L. Digital, in November 2003, and this announcement was prepared thereafter by Adam and Ben Laurie for immediate release.
Adam Laurie is Managing Director and Chief Security Officer of A.L. Digital Ltd.
Ben Laurie is Technical Director of A.L. Digital, and author of Apache-SSL and contributor to many other open source projects, too numerous to expand on here.
A.L. Digital Ltd. are the owner operators of The Bunker, the world’s most secure data centre(s).