Bluetooth Cellphone Tracking and Security Flaws – a PI’s Perspective

Bluetooth – a technology that can search for and locate other Bluetooth devices to share information with each other is a technology that has a lot of people concerned with security. Because Bluetooth devices share information with other devices, the devices are technically traceable. Bluetooth surveillance is a term that people thought was only available 007 Agents and was only a term used in movies. But the fact of the matter is that this kind of surveillance actually exists. But Bluetooth devices has more flaws than just tracking people. The video I posted above is from a group of scammers and hustlers who use Bluetooth to steal hundreds of dollars from unsuspecting victims. I’m going to focus more on the tracing capabilities in this article, but you need to be aware that there are several types of scams and security flaws with our current Bluetooth security.

As a private investigator, I love having the ability to track people from a distance without blowing my cover. I’ve learned several tricks of the trade throughout the years, but as technology continues to move forward, and new technology emerges, tracking people becomes extremely easy.  Bluetooth has become that one tool that we all have but we hardly ever use. But the chances are that if you pick any type of electronic around your home, there is a very high possibility that it’s going to have Bluetooth capabilities installed. The chances of you finding a Bluetooth capable device go up the newer it is. I know for a fact that my Cellphone, Laptop, Keyboard, PlayStation Remotes, Wii remotes, head set, camera, and printer, all have Bluetooth capabilities. This wireless technology was added to make our lives easier. You no longer need to have a cable running across the room to your printer, now just simple sync your Bluetooth devices and the print job can be sent out almost instantaneously.

Bluetooth started off in mobile phones, and it began to spread like wild fire from there. According to Security Focus cellphones make up more than 60% of the Bluetooth market. The reason they have become so popular for the cellphone devices is because of how easy it is to use. You can easily answer a phone call without having to retrieve your phone from your pocket, simply press the button and you’re connected. Some vehicles now days have Bluetooth receivers to connect to your phone and play music, or answer calls to stay safe in your vehicle while you drive. To put it simply, Bluetooth has helped millions of users have an easier life.

I recently had the opportunity of working a case where I was tasked to follow a subject that was committing insurance fraud. During my surveillance I noticed that the subject was using a head set, I pulled out my phone out of curiosity and to my surprised the subject’s name came up on my screen. Later in the day, I followed the subject to a mall, and lost contact with him. Instead of panicking, I pulled out my phone and started to see if I could find him with my phone. Eventually I did locate the subject using nothing but my phone. I know it sounds like something that I pulled out of a James Bond movie, but it actually works – for me it worked to track a subject of an investigation, but a thief can use it to track you down instead.

Here is how Bluetooth Works

Bluetooth devices use the 2.4- gigahertz radio band, this band is free for anyone to use, as long as they sue it on a low power level. Cellphone devices typically have a range of 33 feet from other devices. But Bluetooth receivers and laptops have the ability to reach as far as 328 feet. The only way to actually track a device is if your target’s device can be discoverable. The option of having a device that can be discoverable or non-discoverable means exactly what the name states. Can people find your device, or is your device invisible. If your device is set to discoverable, anyone else that searches for Bluetooth devices nearby can locate your phone, laptop, or any other Bluetooth device you are carrying… can you see where I’m going with this?

So how is Bluetooth surveillance conducted?

Earlier in the article I gave you an example of how I used Bluetooth devices to track a subject of an investigation down. But how can other people find it? Well, finding out if people have a Bluetooth device activated and set on discoverable is fairly easy – just turn on your phone and click on search for devices nearby. Of course, doing this method only gives you an immediate 33 foot radius of discoverability, meaning if your subject is further than that area the chances of you locating the subject is going to be close to impossible. 33 feet is about the distance of a light pole. This works great if you’re walking around in a crowded area, but it tends to fail when you’re in a wide open space. This technique can help you identify if a person is inside a small department store easily without having to look around to hard. Or if they are inside dressing rooms or bathrooms, simply stand near the doors and search for their device.

Mobile surveillance using Bluetooth is not that difficult, you can walk in a mall looking for a target, using a Bluetooth receiving PDA. These PDA’s have a large receiving radius, upwards of a 300 feet. This kind of technology allows you to walk around a mall or a crowded area, once you locate your target, or you know your target is in range of the receiver, you can quickly change course to determine where a person is located. For example, you can walk forward and see that you’r distance is closing down, the moment you start to see the distance gap increase between your device and the target, you know you’re walking the wrong way.

Other techniques include setting up a Surveillance network, In order for you to find a subject in a wide open area, you need to have a group of investigators that use Bluetooth receivers to track subjects down. As stated above a receiver can track a person down from up to 328 feet away. You could technically use 4 receivers to track a device and then using basic math, you can triangulate where the subject is located.

Large establishments actually use Bluetooth receivers and transmitters to track people inside the stores. I know of large convention centers that actually place receivers on the passes for people in order track them down. And the Aalborg Zoo in Denmark actually let’s parents put a Bluetooth receiver on their children to keep them from wandering off. Aalborg Zoo was one of the first zoos in the world to implement this kind of technology. Their receivers can track people and children down with 2 feet’s of accuracy.

Cities and even large malls could put up high power receivers to track people down across large areas, but before you go chunking your phone out the window in fear that the government is tracking you, here is how to prevent this from happening to you.

How to protect yourself from Bluetooth surveillance

Finding people using nothing more than Bluetooth is difficult; when you start to search for devices, most of the time you’ll have a number, or a random nickname. For example, my Bluetooth’s number is a 16 digit long number and letter combination. By default, your phone has a 12-16 digit number associated with your phone. In my case, my subject made two mistakes, one He changed his Bluetooth’s name to his name, which is unsafe. His second mistake was leaving his phone discoverable. The best defense if you fear that a private investigator or the government is trying to spy on you and track you down using your phone, is to simply put your device on “undiscoverable” this turns off the Bluetooth capabilities and it becomes impossible to locate.