A large number of device makers are patching a serious vulnerability in the Bluetooth specification that allows attackers to intercept and tamper with data exchanged wirelessly. People who use Bluetooth to connect smartphones, computers, or other security-sensitive devices should make sure they install a fix as soon as possible.
The attack, which was disclosed in a research paper published Wednesday, is serious because it allows people to perform a man-in-the-middle attack on the connection between vulnerable devices. From there, attackers can view any exchanged data, which might include contacts stored on a device, passwords typed on a keyboard, or sensitive information used by medical, point-of-sale, or automotive equipment. Attackers could also forge keystrokes on a Bluetooth keyboard to open up a command window or malicious website in an outright compromise of the connected phone or computer.
Bluetooth combines Simple Secure Pairing or LE Secure Connections with principles of elliptic curve mathematics to allow devices that have never connected before to securely securely establish a secret key needed for encrypted communications. The attack uses a newly developed variant of what cryptographers call an invalid curve attack to exploit a major shortcoming in the Bluetooth protocol that remained unknown for more than a decade. As a result, attackers can force the devices to use a known encryption key that allows the monitoring and modifying of data wirelessly passing between them.