Stalkers could be tracking your location by hacking the Bluetooth connection on your devices—and even your wireless headphones aren’t safe.

A team of cybersecurity experts have discovered a loophole in Bluetooth which allows hackers to turn smartphones, smartwatches, and any device with the wireless connectivity into a digital tracking beacon.

Any device with Bluetooth connectivity emits short-range wireless signals which can show proximity to any receiver. This is useful for connecting to, say, your speakers, or Find My iPhone.

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Many Bluetooth devices encrypt themselves to provide anonymity against attackers. They do this by randomising the address of the device.

However, the team discovered that each Bluetooth device can have physical imperfections which emit a unique ‘fingerprint’ that could be tracked across different locations.

They tested an iPhone 10, a Macbook Pro, an Apple Watch, and even some Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones, and found that all could be ‘fingerprinted’ in this way.

According to the study, people are most vulnerable in busy settings such as coffee shops, train stations, or bars. Hackers could place short-distance scanners in your local area and keep an eye on your every move.

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The scariest part is that turning off Bluetooth might not be enough to protect you. Apple devices that had Bluetooth disabled still produced the ‘beaconing’ effect. Switching off your device when it’s not being used is the only way to ensure you’re protected.

“To the best of our knowledge, powering down a personal device entirely will stop it from beaconing,” said report authors Givehchian and Bhaskar.

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“However, we found that simply disabling Bluetooth on some phones will not stop the beacons.

The good news is that this type of Bluetooth tracking is unreliable at best and depends on everything from the temperature to the hardware features of a device. For this reason, a hacker’s ability to track a specific target is “essentially a matter of luck.”

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