SPARTA Results

Saving Private Addresses: An Analysis of Privacy Issues in the Bluetooth-Low-Energy Advertising Mechanism

Guillaume Celosia, Mathieu Cunche

The Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) protocol is being included in a growing number of connected objects such as fitness trackers and headphones. As part of the service discovery mechanism of BLE, devices announce themselves by broadcasting radio signals called advertisement packets that can be collected with off-the-shelf hardware and software. To avoid the risk of tracking based on those messages, BLE features an address randomization mechanism that substitutes the device address with random temporary pseudonyms, called Private addresses. In this paper, we analyze the privacy issues associated with the advertising mechanism of BLE, leveraging a large dataset of advertisement packets collected in the wild. First, we identified that some implementations fail at following the BLE specifications on the maximum lifetime and the uniform distribution of random identifiers. Furthermore, we found that the payload of the advertisement packet can hamper the randomization mechanism by exposing counters and static identifiers. In particular, we discovered that advertising data of Apple and Microsoft proximity protocols can be used to defeat the address randomization scheme. Finally, we discuss how some elements of advertising data can be leveraged to identify the type of device, exposing the owner to inventory attacks.

Full paper