Researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) discovered a vulnerability in Bluetooth, dubbed Bluetooth Impersonation AttackS or BIAS, that could potentially be exploited by an attacker to spoof a remotely paired device.
The issue potentially impact over a billion of devices.
“To establish an encrypted connection, two Bluetooth devices must pair with each other using a link key. It is possible for an unauthenticated, adjacent attacker to impersonate a previously paired/bonded device and successfully authenticate without knowing the link key. This could allow an attacker to gain full access to the paired device by performing a Bluetooth Impersonation Attack (BIAS).” reads the vulnerability note VU#647177.
The Bluetooth specification is affected by security flaws that could allow attackers to carry out impersonation attacks while establishing a secure connection.
For BIAS attack to be successful, the attacker has to use a device that would need to be within wireless range of a vulnerable Bluetooth device that has previously established a BR/EDR bonding with a remote device with a Bluetooth address known to the attacker.
To establish an encrypted connection, two Bluetooth devices must pair with each other using a link key, aka long term key.
The experts explained that the flaw results from how two previously paired devices handle the link key. The link key allows two paired devices to maintain the connection every time a data is transferred between the two devices.
The experts discovered that it is possible for an unauthenticated attacker within the wireless range of a target Bluetooth device to spoof the address of a previously paired remote device to successfully complete the authentication procedure with some paired/bonded devices without knowing the link key.
“The Bluetooth standard includes a legacy authentication procedure and a secure authentication procedure, allowing devices to authenticate to each other using a long term key. Those procedures are used during pairing and secure connection establishment to prevent impersonation attacks. In this paper, we show that the Bluetooth specification contains vulnerabilities enabling to perform impersonation attacks during secure connection establishment.” reads the research paper. “Such vulnerabilities include the lack of mandatory mutual authentication, overly permissive role switching, and an authentication procedure downgrade.”
The researchers reported their findings to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), in December 2019.
“The researchers identified that it is possible for an attacking device spoofing the address of a previously bonded remote device to successfully complete the authentication procedure with some paired/bonded devices while not possessing the link key. This may permit an attacker to negotiate a reduced encryption key strength with a device that is still vulnerable to the Key Negotiation of Bluetooth attack disclosed in 2019.” reads the advisory published by the Bluetooth SIG. “If the encryption key length reduction is successful, an attacker may be able to brute force the encryption key and spoof the remote paired device. If the encryption key length reduction is unsuccessful, the attacker will not be able to establish an encrypted link but may still appear authenticated to the host.”
Experts explained that combining the BIAS attack with other attacks, such as the KNOB (Key Negotiation of Bluetooth) attack, the attacker van brute-force the encryption key and use it to decrypt communications.
“The BIAS and KNOB attacks can be chained to impersonate a Bluetooth device, complete authentication without possessing the link key, negotiate a session key with low entropy, establish a secure connection, and brute force the session key” states the paper.
Experts tested the attack against as many as 30 Bluetooth devices and discovered that all of them were found to be vulnerable to BIAS attacks.
The Bluetooth SIG has addressed the vulnerability announcing the introduction of changes into a future specification revision.
The SIG recommends Bluetooth users to install the latest updates from the device and operating system manufacturers.
“The BIAS attacks are the first uncovering issues related to Bluetooth’s secure connection establishment authentication procedures, adversarial role switches, and Secure Connections downgrades,” the paper concludes. “The BIAS attacks are stealthy, as Bluetooth secure connection establishment does not require user interaction.”
(SecurityAffairs – BIAS attack, hacking)
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