So You Want to Track People with Ubertooth - Great Scott Gadgets

Great Scott Gadgets

So You Want to Track People with Ubertooth

I am contacted frequently by people who want to use Ubertooth One to track the movements of vehicles or pedestrians on highways, at airports, in shopping malls, etc. This is a FAQ.

Q: Can Ubertooth One be used to monitor movements of people carrying Bluetooth devices?

A: Yes. With multiple Ubertooth Ones covering different locations, you can determine the time that a particular target device is present at each location. This could allow you to compute average travel times on highways, wait times in queues, etc.

Q: We currently track Bluetooth devices by using standard Bluetooth adapters performing frequent inquiries. This only detects discoverable devices. Ubertooth One could be used to track non-discoverable devices, right?

A: Yes. However, Ubertooth One only detects devices when they are actively transmitting. An idle target device, discoverable or not, will not be detected by Ubertooth One in passive monitoring mode. Inquiry detects discoverable devices whether or not they were active before inquiry; passive monitoring detects active devices whether or not they are discoverable.

Q: So an optimal solution to identify the largest number of devices would incorporate both inquiry and passive monitoring?

A: To identify the most devices possible, you should use both inquiry and passive monitoring. Additionally you could perform paging or partial paging. Paging is the process used when a Bluetooth device connects to another. Once you have identified a non-discoverable Bluetooth device address with passive monitoring, you can page for that address. This determines whether or not the target device is present even if the device has become inactive.

Q: How is partial paging different than normal paging?

A: The normal paging procedure involves several packets transmitted back and forth between the master (the paging device) and the slave (the paged device). The first packet is transmitted by the master and contains the slave’s address. The second packet is transmitted by the slave in response to the master. It is possible for the master to stop the paging procedure at this point before fully opening the connection. The first slave response packet is sufficient to determine the slave’s presence. (This is analogous to a TCP SYN scan.) This partial paging procedure would be faster than a complete paging procedure. I don’t know of any implementations, but Ubertooth One would be a good platform for developing such a thing.

Q: Could partial paging be used to conduct a brute force search for all possible LAPs (Bluetooth Device Address Lower Address Parts)?

A: Yes, but it would take a while. Even with some optimizations, I estimate that an exhaustive brute force LAP search by partial paging with a single Ubertooth One would take on the order of 100 hours. This is considerably faster than previous implementations but is probably too slow to be useful for tracking applications.

Q: Could packets transmitted by paging or partial paging be misinterpreted by a nearby passive monitor, indicating presence of a device that is not there?

A: Yes. If you implement both paging and passive monitoring, you must take care to ignore the packets transmitted by your own system.

Q: We’re tracking Bluetooth devices anonymously.

A: No, you’re not.

Q: No, really! We are! Aren’t we?

A: Unless your system has been designed carefully for anonymity and has been audited thoroughly for anonymity by an information security professional, it is highly unlikely that you are tracking people anonymously. If you store BD_ADDRs (Bluetooth Device Addresses) of target devices, you are storing individually identifiable information about the owners of those devices. The same is true if you store hashes of BD_ADDRs or encrypted BD_ADDRs unless great care has been taken to irrevocably destroy encryption keys. If you delete stored data without an audited secure erasure procedure, you should assume the data are easily recoverable. Most importantly, if you tell people that their information is being anonymized without properly anonymizing it, you are a bad person.

Q: Are you interested in building a tracking system for us?

A: I am interested, from an academic standpoint, in tracking the movements of Bluetooth devices, and I believe that people have a right to know how they can be tracked by transmissions from wireless communication devices they carry. I would be willing to develop special purpose hardware and software for such applications so long as I am permitted to publish everything I produce under an open source license.

Q: We would like to pay you to develop a proprietary tracking system and grant us exclusive distribution. Will you do it?

A: I develop only open source hardware and software.