Stop Leaving Bluetooth on on Your Smartphone

Bluetooth is a handy feature that makes it easy to pair a variety of devices, whether you’re trying to get your new wireless earbuds to talk to your Android phone or connecting your Apple Watch to an iPhone. Bluetooth can also draw you into the crossfire of teens sharing selfies with strangers if you’re unlucky enough. As convenient as Bluetooth is, it comes with some unpleasant consequences if you don’t use it actively or never use it.

When you leave Bluetooth on, you open your device to potential problems, given the myriad of security concerns associated with this technology. This is incredibly handy when you need to stream music to a nearby speaker, for example, but you have to treat it like a switch: when you’re done using it, turn it off. If you don’t use it at all, do not leave it on.

Security researchers always seem to be identifying issues that make phones, smart TVs, and even cars vulnerable to Bluetooth attacks – and these shortcomings cannot always be quickly fixed. For example, a vulnerability known as BlueBorne, discovered in 2017 by research firm Armis , still put many device users at risk more than a year after the initial discovery .

The BlueBorne attack gave the hacker the ability to control (and receive data from) a Bluetooth-enabled device, even if that device was not connected to anything at the time of the attack. In addition, BlueBorne attacks can spread from device to device. (While attackers technically need to be within your phone’s Bluetooth range to film something like this, within about 33 feet or so, they can gain extra distance when there are other infected devices nearby.)

However, you may not be able to turn off Bluetooth if you actively use it in, say, your car (or your smartwatch). This is why it is also important to keep your devices up to date. Updates often include fixes to address security flaws, including Bluetooth issues , so if you’ve ignored the update notifications or haven’t looked around, just in case your car’s entertainment system can’t tell you that a new firmware update is available – go dig … Make sure you keep your devices up to date and set a calendar reminder if you forget.

But what’s the easiest line of defense against both bad actors and happy teen memes? Do not leave Bluetooth on unless you are using the connection regularly. Yes, this tip is a bit like how to pour your baby into the bathtub, so we don’t recommend going crazy and turning it on and off multiple times a day.

But if you don’t use Bluetooth at all, why leave it on? It can be a tiny little step that gives you a little extra protection, but every little step helps keep your device safe. And we have to point out that this isn’t going to save you extra battery life – so get that out of your head right now. We’re just talking about keeping you as safe as possible, especially if you are using devices that may have Bluetooth enabled by default and that are not regularly updated by the manufacturer (or you).

And don’t even talk about the annoying practice of retailers using Bluetooth to track you while you shop …

This story was originally published in 2017 and was updated on 09/10/19 with more recent information.


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