Story at a glance

  • Digital security experts are siding with Vice President Harris’ “Bluetooth-phobic” avoidance of wireless headphones, calling them a viable security threat.
  • Guidance issued by the National Security Agency last year recommended users disable Bluetooth entirely to avoid data exposure.
  • An open Bluetooth connection can act as a “cracked window” for digital attackers and allow the device to be tracked.

A Monday report that Vice President Harris is so “Bluetooth-phobic” that she avoids using wireless headphones has digital security experts nodding their heads in agreement.

Government officials have long been made aware of the potential security risks that come with using wireless headphones, and guidance issued by the National Security Agency last year recommended users disable Bluetooth from their devices entirely to avoid data exposure. 

Even if cellular service is switched off, Bluetooth can still be used by possibly nefarious parties, or anyone, for that matter, to identify a user’s location, the NSA said.

Additional briefings have warned government employees that an open Bluetooth connection can act as a “cracked window” for digital attackers and allow for physical tracking of the device, the Daily Beast reported. Bluetooth location tracking can be used to understand a pattern of movements and daily routines to predict future movements.


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Officials have also noted that, while security for government-issued devices is handled by security officers, protecting one’s personal devices is entirely up to the individual. Some, like Harris, have started using corded headphones for personal mobile devices and computers.

Cybersecurity researchers last year found they only needed to exploit Bluetooth protocols to gain access to sensitive information like contacts, call logs and SMS verification codes on Android cellphones. And research out of Germany last year found nearby hackers could use a software exploit to break into Android phones via Bluetooth.

Experts have said avoiding Bluetooth is probably wise for someone like Harris, whose threat model, or the likelihood she’ll be targeted for hacking or surveillance, is relatively high.

“It’s a fine protocol for almost everyone, even with vulnerabilities, because it requires reasonably close access to exploit it along with an actor who has both the capability and intent to do so,” Sergio Caltagirone, a former NSA threat intelligence analyst, told the Daily Beast. 

“That means only a few thousand people out of the billions on earth need to worry about this problem. The U.S. Vice President and other USG executives are amongst those people,” he said.


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Published on Dec 08, 2021