News, Culture & Society

Expert uncovers security flaw in Bluetooth ‘panic buttons’

It appears that no device is safe from hackers nowadays. 

Two Bluetooth panic buttons were found to have weak security measures in place that make them vulnerable to exploitation by hackers. 

This seems particularly ironic, given that the devices were created for the express purpose of personal safety. 

Specifically, Bluetooth panic buttons created by wearable companies Wearsafe and Revolar have some flaws, according to Mark Loveless, a cybersecurity expert at software provider Duo Security. 

Cybersecurity expert Mark Loveless discovered a security flaw in two Bluetooth ‘panic buttons’ made by Wearsafe and Revolar that left them open to being tracked remotely

Both the Wearsafe and Revolar devices were susceptible to a security flaw that allowed them to be tracked using cheap antennas. 

It seems that the very technology that would help users in unsafe situations is also the very factor that might put them at risk of dangerous security flaws. 

With a push of the panic button, users can quietly notify their friends or family of their location. 

The device links to their smartphone via a Bluetooth connection, which enables the system to broadcast the user’s location and a warning message to their contacts. 

Anyone who knows how a Bluetooth connection works would know that it’s also able to be tracked remotely.

The Wearsafe device can be tracked using a free scanner app or inexpensive antenna if you’re nearby, Loveless said. 

‘With a free scanner app on a phone, the Wearsafe device was easily detected as long as you were within close range, and using a laptop along with a larger antenna, one could easily detect the device from longer distances,’ Loveless explained. 

Someone could track the Wearsafe device up to a quarter mile away if they’re willing to shell out $50 on a more powerful antenna, he added. 

‘It is easy to track the device from a slight distance, which kind of defeats the idea of having a stealth device,’ Loveless said.

It’s a bit more difficult to track the Revolar device, but it can still be done. 


Cybersecurity expert Mark Loveless identified several security flaws in Wearsafe and Revolar’s Bluetooth panic button devices

Both companies specialize in personal safety internet of things devices 

At CES 2018, Qualcomm and ZTE announced they'd work with Wearsafe to launch a new personal safety devices

At CES 2018, Qualcomm and ZTE announced they’d work with Wearsafe to launch a new personal safety devices

Wearsafe and Revolar’s panic buttons were found to be susceptible to tracking from remote attackers 

All the attackers have to do is download a free tracking app or a cheap antenna in order to see where your device is located 

Attackers can track the device because of the Bluetooth connection that links up to your smartphone 

The Wearsafe device was also able to be shutdown via a denial-of-service attack, Loveless said

Denial-of-service attack involves flooding the device with Bluetooth connection requests 

The only way to turn the device back on is to remove and reinsert the battery

Revolar’s device wasn’t vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks  

Revolar broadcasts the user’s location to a phone for about 30 minutes each hour, which could be just enough time for a tracker to pick up your location. 

What’s even scarier, the attacker can use this narrow window of time to their advantage. 

‘The main concern is that the attacker can adjust tactics (disguise, approach from behind, quickly restrain hands, etc.) to address the situation of the victim actually using the device,’ Loveless said. 

The Wearsafe device was also found to be vulnerable to denial-of-service attacks. 

In this case, Loveless flooded Wearsafe’s panic button device with a ton of Bluetooth connection requests. 

Inundated with requests, the device was unable to reconnect to the user’s phone, which rendered the device useless. 

The only way to make the device usable again is to complete a ‘hard reset,’ or to remove and reinsert the battery. 

Loveless identified another security vulnerability left the Wearsafe Bluetooth panic button susceptible to denial-of-service attacks that would render the device virtually useless

Loveless identified another security vulnerability left the Wearsafe Bluetooth panic button susceptible to denial-of-service attacks that would render the device virtually useless

Revolar’s panic button wasn’t susceptible to denial-of-service attacks.

Loveless said he contacted both Revolar and Wearsafe to notifty them of the security flaws. 

He said Wearsafe addressed the security vulnerabilities, while Revolar never responded.

Interestingly, chip giant Qualcomm and Chinese smartphone maker ZTE announced a partnership with Wearsafe at CES 2018 to create a new set of personal safety wearables.

It’s unclear what kind of devices the companies plan to release (a CNet report suggested some kind of modern LifeAlert device). 

But it seems that they’ll want to take Loveless’ security flaws into account this time around.   


Comments are closed.