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Is leaving Bluetooth active on my Android smartphone a security risk?

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth technology is a protocol for establishing a local network to exchange data wirelessly between nearby devices. In other words, with Bluetooth, you can share information between, for example, your phone and your headphones without needing a cable.

Bluetooth is an open standard, meaning anyone can freely use the technology without a license. This is one of the main reasons why Bluetooth is so popular and is built into more and more devices every day.

The technology was developed in the early nineties by Jaap Haartsen, who worked for Ericsson. Today you can find almost everything with Bluetooth connectivity – from wireless headphones to speakers to the refrigerator in your kitchen. Virtually every newly manufactured device comes with built-in Bluetooth functionality.

Fun Bluetooth fact

Wondering how Bluetooth got its name? We can thank the Vikings for that.

In the tenth century, the Danish Viking leader Harald Denmark, also called Harald Blåtand (which translates to “Bluetooth”), was crowned the king of Denmark. He later united his kingdom with Norway. The method for wirelessly connecting cell phone headsets was named after the Viking leader, in recognition of the important role Nordic countries played in the development of cell phone technology.

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(2) STREAMING AUDIO IS THE REAL CULPRIT

Although Bluetooth Low Energy sounds like the answer to all your prayers, of course it’s not quite that easy. BLE acts as more of a complement to Classic Bluetooth than anything, since not all applications and pair-able devices can actually use BLE. Yep, this means that BLE is not intended to completely replace Classic Bluetooth… certain applications/devices that require more bandwidth to stream rich content will still rely on the slightly-more-battery-draining “older brother” to BLE — Classic Bluetooth.

Photo Source: Logitech (via amazon.com)
Photo Source: Logitech (via amazon.com)

Specifically, audio-based apps like the Spotifys, Apple Musics & Pandoras of the world require more energy and bandwidth for their rich streaming capabilities than BLE can support. So, if you want to stream that new Justin Timberlake song over your wireless shower speaker for your whole house to hear, your phone is going to rely on Classic Bluetooth to get the job done. And with that, comes the risk of a little more battery drainage. However, these audio apps also use a-whole-lotta battery in their own right, whether you’re streaming them via Bluetooth to an external device (think: wireless speaker, wireless, headphones, car sound system) or not.

Since you’re likely not streaming audio to an external device 24/7, we stand by our defense that in many use-cases, Bluetooth is the more-innocent-than-guilty party when it comes to placing blame for that dead battery.

Final Thoughts

Bluetooth has made our lives a lot easier. We listen to our favorite music without getting tangled up in pesky cords. Our wireless keyboard and mouse keep our workspace uncluttered. Driving our vehicles is safer with a multitude of hands-free options.

While this helpful technology doesn’t come without security risks, you can easily create a secure Bluetooth environment. Turn Bluetooth off when you’re not using it. Keep your operating systems up to date. Be careful who and what you pair with.

By incorporating a few common-sense strategies into your routine, you can enjoy Bluetooth more and worry less about what nearby hackers might be up to.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bluetooth

Still have questions? Looking for more information? Check out the questions we get the most about Bluetooth.

There are a number of things you can do to maximize the security of your Bluetooth connection:Turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it.Set your Bluetooth to not discoverable.Install system updates and patches whenever they are issued.Be mindful of which devices you pair with. To find out more about Bluetooth security risks and other ways you can stay safe while using this convenient technology, read our full article. When Bluetooth is turned off, hackers attempting a Bluetooth attack can’t see your device. This is the safest way to avoid a Bluetooth attack. But it is not practical, since most people use Bluetooth every day for some purpose. The best strategy is to get in the habit of turning off Bluetooth whenever you’re not using it. If you have trouble remembering to do so throughout the day, there are a number of apps out there that will do it for you. You can easily see which devices you’re actively paired with by reviewing your Bluetooth settings. There will be a list of all devices you’ve previously paired with and the status of your connection to each. If you see an active connection you don’t recognize, terminate it immediately and forget the device. Bluetooth devices emit only low levels of nonionizing radiation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes that routine exposure to this type of radiation is considered harmless to humans. Medical experts generally agree that it’s highly unlikely radiation at the levels generated by Bluetooth headphones poses any health safety risks to wearers. You can make your Bluetooth device not discoverable in different ways, depending on your device:iPhone: automatically hides your Bluetooth connection anytime the Bluetooth settings screen isn’t actively open.Android, Mac, and Windows: you can turn on the hidden mode in your Bluetooth settings. Read our full article on Bluetooth safety for step-by-step instructions on how to do this for each device.

Tove Marks Author Tech journalist Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. She has broad experience developing rigorous VPN testing procedures and protocols for our VPN review section and has tested dozens of VPNs over the years.

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