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Is it possible to track a Bluetooth signal of Bluetooth enabled Android phone with disabled visiblity?

I have heard of professional tracking devices, which are able to track/locate Bluetooth devices, even if their visibility is turned off.

  • Sure... If your BT is turned on, it is broadcasting and can be seen as being there. Don't need anything professional to see these devices, my Meraki MR33 access point in my apartment sees them all the time, a quick look shows me over 75 devices seen in the last week. Can't do much with that information generally, but I know they are there. That said, I don't think this is an Android specific question in any way. – acejavelin Sep 5 at 17:40
  • What, exactly, do you mean by "tracking"? Find your phone's current location no matter the searcher's location, detect your device when nearby, find where your phone was in the past (location history), or something else? – outis Sep 5 at 19:06
  • @Acejavelin are you sure that visibility is disabled on these devices? If it is like you say that all Bluetooth enabled devices are always detectable, what exactly is the "visibility"-feature for? And you are right, it's not an Android specific question. But it's the first thing that came into my mind, as nearly every Android phone has Bluetooth and this visibility option in the settings. Feel free to recommend a better place for my question. – freshCroissant Sep 6 at 9:01
  • @Outis You are right, I should have been more precise here. With tracking, I mean detect the device when nearby. So if the attacker has many of these tracking devices all across the city (e.g. public transportation) he could always know when you pass these points. – freshCroissant Sep 6 at 9:01
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    Security.SE might be a better site for this question. In particular, users there will likely be more knowledgable about this topic. This question might be able to be migrated there. – outis Sep 8 at 14:45
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By design, it's not supposed to be possible to actively get the address of a Bluetooth device (which is then used to identify the device for tracking purposes) when it's not in discoverable mode, as it won't respond to inquiries. However, if a device is actively communicating with another device, it will be transmitting information that can be used to track it passively. Exactly what information is available depends on which BT features the device is using. Later BT versions include security features that can make address detection, and thus tracking, harder, though these features are generally optional, so newer devices may still be as easy to track as older devices.

In older BT versions, part of the address, the LAP (Lower Address Part; assigned by the manufacturer and unique to the device) is broadcast in cleartext in each packet. Frequency hopping can make it hard to capture packets, but specialized receivers can counter this. Newer BT versions can generate (and periodically change) a random address instead of using the device's; this behavior is called LE Privacy1.

Another part of the address, the UAP (Upper Address Part; part of the manufacturer's ID assigned to the manufacturer), is used for various algorithms, such as error correction and inter-packet timing, and can be calculated2.

A device also sends its full address in cleartext when authenticating with another device. An attacker can try to capture this by disconnecting the devices (using spoofed packets with a specialized payload) and then listening for the reconnect.

Note all of these attacks require that a device is connected to some other device. If a device is undiscoverable and unpaired, it won't be transmitting and can't be made to transmit. Even then, some types of tracking are possible.

An app on your phone can use its greater access to leverage Bluetooth to track your location, not based on info from the phone's own data but on nearby BT devices. Google's Android location services3 gathers info on nearby BT beacons (even if not paired) and sends it to Google. Note that this is a different type of tracking than the other techniques allow.

Reference:

  1. Understanding Bluetooth Security; M. Loveless; 2018-01-09
  2. Discovering the Bluetooth UAP; M. Ossmann; 2014-06-10
  3. Google can still use Bluetooth to track your Android phone when Bluetooth is turned off; D. Yanofsky; 2018-01-24
  4. Hacking Bluetooth; E. Chai, B. Deardorff, C Wu; 2012-12-09

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