Cyber Snipers

Bluetooth, the technology that enables devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and personal digital assistants to trade information wirelessly, is one of the hippest technologies around. In Europe, many singles leave the Bluetooth feature on their mobile phones "enabled" at all times, so they can e-flirt by sending electronic business cards to one another. Three ...

Bluetooth, the technology that enables devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and personal digital assistants to trade information wirelessly, is one of the hippest technologies around. In Europe, many singles leave the Bluetooth feature on their mobile phones "enabled" at all times, so they can e-flirt by sending electronic business cards to one another. Three million Bluetooth-enabled devices are shipped every week worldwide.

By 2008, more than half of the mobile phones in the world will have the technology. Too bad these savvy systems are so vulnerable to attack. Last year, John Hering and his colleagues at Flexilis, a technology think tank in Los Angeles, shocked industry executives by developing a Bluetooth "sniper rifle." The rifle can hack into mobile phones from more than a mile away -- enabling hackers to steal personal address books, send phony text messages, and turn phones into bugging devices. At February's Academy Awards, Hering detected nearly 100 vulnerable phones belonging to celebrities sauntering down the red carpet. Hering insists he's just trying to "assess vulnerabilities," but instructions on how to make the rifle can already be found online.

There's more at stake than an Oscar winner's address book. A security firm in London recently ran a test at the Houses of Parliament. In less than 15 minutes, eight Bluetooth phones were compromised. Which means that the handy new technology might just be the next frontier of espionage.

Bluetooth, the technology that enables devices such as laptops, mobile phones, and personal digital assistants to trade information wirelessly, is one of the hippest technologies around. In Europe, many singles leave the Bluetooth feature on their mobile phones "enabled" at all times, so they can e-flirt by sending electronic business cards to one another. Three million Bluetooth-enabled devices are shipped every week worldwide.

By 2008, more than half of the mobile phones in the world will have the technology. Too bad these savvy systems are so vulnerable to attack. Last year, John Hering and his colleagues at Flexilis, a technology think tank in Los Angeles, shocked industry executives by developing a Bluetooth "sniper rifle." The rifle can hack into mobile phones from more than a mile away — enabling hackers to steal personal address books, send phony text messages, and turn phones into bugging devices. At February’s Academy Awards, Hering detected nearly 100 vulnerable phones belonging to celebrities sauntering down the red carpet. Hering insists he’s just trying to "assess vulnerabilities," but instructions on how to make the rifle can already be found online.

There’s more at stake than an Oscar winner’s address book. A security firm in London recently ran a test at the Houses of Parliament. In less than 15 minutes, eight Bluetooth phones were compromised. Which means that the handy new technology might just be the next frontier of espionage.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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