Bluetooth headphones and earbuds have pretty much replaced their wired counterparts now.
With so many Bluetooth devices, we can’t help but think of the associated security risks.
So, are Bluetooth headphones encrypted?
Bluetooth headphones are encrypted. The data that your phone sends gets encrypted and then decrypted by the headphones with the help of a key. The headphones can then use the data and play it back to you. However, Bluetooth encryption isn’t perfect, and there are some minor security risks.
In this article, we’ll explain a few important security facts associated with Bluetooth headphones.
You’ll learn how to reduce the chance of getting your headphones hacked.
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1. Encryption Doesn’t Secure Your Data Completely
Before we discuss Bluetooth encryption, we first have to talk about encryption in general.
Encryption is the process of encoding, sending, and decoding data with the use of special algorithms.
The encrypted data is virtually impossible to crack without a key.
Gathering the encrypted data itself isn’t too difficult; any experienced hacker could do it.
The problem is that they can utilize key negotiation to unlock and decrypt the data.
This isn’t a problem if the data is a recent pop song. But if a hacker targets a CEO who’s on a business phone call using Bluetooth earbuds, it’s a problem.
The hacker could gather valuable information from the CEO.
But if you’re an average citizen and don’t have any important phone calls, it’s not that big of a deal.
2. Bluetooth Is Safer Than WiFi
We pay so much attention to Bluetooth safety nowadays that we forget about something we use far more often – WiFi.
WiFi has a much bigger range than Bluetooth, and that’s the first problem. A hacker could be 20 m (65.6 feet) away from your phone and still hack you.
But Bluetooth headphones cut out after you walk 5 meters (16.4 feet) at home.
I never had a pair that could stay connected at over 10 meters (32.8 feet) in an open area.
So, a hacker would have to be pretty close to you to do anything.
There’s also the constant change in frequency bands on Bluetooth headphones. There’s a total of 79 Bluetooth frequencies.
Your headphones and phone change the frequency they use all the time.
This also happens when you’re walking on a crowded street with lots of other devices.
These frequency jumps make you a harder target for a would-be hacker.
3. Newer Versions of Bluetooth Are Safer Than Older Ones
All technology around us is constantly evolving. Bluetooth is part of this evolution, and there’s a new Bluetooth version every other year or so.
The most recent Bluetooth version is 5.2. It added a new protocol called Enhanced Attribute Protocol, or EATT for short.
It sends multiple packets of data at the same time, and the data gets split into several pieces.
If someone gets hold of one part of the data, they can’t do anything with it.
Bluetooth is nearly always backwards compatible, though. This isn’t bad by any means. It’s just something that you should be aware of.
You need both your phone and headphones to be the latest version to use it.
If your phone has Bluetooth 5.2, but your headphones have 5.0, the connection is 5.0.
Not to mention that you get better transfer rates and range with newer versions. And a more recent Bluetooth version lets you use a better audio codec too.
If you’re looking for a pair of Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds, I got you covered.
The SoundPEATS Sonic Wireless Headphones from Amazon.com are one of the few Bluetooth 5.2 earbuds on the market.
The earbuds sound great, have a large battery, and calls are clear.
If you’re using Bluetooth 4.0 or older, then you’re at a huge risk of eavesdropping.
Upgrade your Bluetooth by getting newer headphones and/or a newer smartphone.
4. Bluetooth Attacks Can Target Your Headphones and Phone
By now, we’ve established that Bluetooth is relatively safe. However, there are dozens of Bluetooth vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit.
Here are a few of the most common types:
The names are pretty creative, but that’s the only positive thing about them.
Some of these attacks, like BlueBugging and BlueSnarfing, are extremely dangerous.
Others are only a minor annoyance. Albeit, those can give you quite a scare because you don’t expect them. A good example is BlueJacking.
What Is BlueJacking?
As the name suggests, BlueJacking is when someone hijacks your Bluetooth device to send unwanted messages. The hacker plays an ad through your earbuds.
So, it’s usually nothing dangerous or disturbing. A hacker would have no benefit from that other than to cause mass hysteria.
There’s also a fairly decent chance that you’ve fallen victim to this type of attack.
If you were standing or sitting in a public area for a while, a hacker would have enough time to connect to your earbuds.
They’d then play the ad to you hundreds of times.
BlueJacking usually happens in highly crowded places. A hacker might rig a device to target everyone in the area automatically.
They’d then leave the device sitting for a few hours.
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5. Bluetooth Headphones Remain Discoverable When Paired
Bluetooth headphones are at a higher risk of getting hacked.
That’s because if someone hacks your phone, you may get a pairing notification.
You can press decline and forget about it. But you can’t do that with Bluetooth earbuds.
Most of the time, the headphones stay visible to all other devices. You have no way to make them undiscoverable.
At the very least, keep your phone undiscoverable at all times.
If your Bluetooth earbuds come with a phone app, use it. The app may have a discoverability toggle.
Otherwise, you can’t do much about this issue.
Most Bluetooth attacks target smart gadgets because they’re always visible on the Bluetooth protocol.
6. Turning Your Bluetooth Headphones Off Keeps You Safe
So, with all those different Bluetooth attacks, how can you secure your data?
Keep yourself safe by turning off the Bluetooth headphones completely when you don’t use them.
A hacker has no access via Bluetooth if the headphones are off.
If you don’t turn off Bluetooth on your phone and headphones, you’re exposing your data.
7. Companies Aren’t Spying on You Through Headphones
There have been a few serious allegations about spying against Bluetooth headphone manufacturers.
To be more specific, I’m talking about the Zak v Bose case. Zak claimed that his Bose headphones are listening to his private music and audio sessions.
And he claimed that the company sells this data to advertisers.
However, Bose denied these claims. Instead, they explained that the Bose Connect app collects de-identified data for itself.
The data isn’t sold or misused.
So, do companies use your Bluetooth headphones to spy on you?
It’s a tricky question, but I’d say no. If anything, Bose explained that the app does it, not the headphones.
All this means that the best way to hide your data from everyone is by not using the app that came with your earbuds.
Bluetooth headphones are encrypted.
All data transfer that happens between your headphones is protected by several Bluetooth security features.
However, this doesn’t mean that your headphones can’t get hacked. If you’re using an older Bluetooth version, you’re at a high risk of getting attacked.
Thankfully, most Bluetooth attacks that target headphones aren’t very serious. They may play you an annoying ad through them, but that’s about it.