Bluetooth And The Art Of Safe Sex

I’ve been researching Islam and technology for a story due out later this week. There’s been some interesting gadgets enter the market place recently aimed at Muslims but what also interested me are the attitudes of Muslims towards technology: Was there any life left in the non-Muslim perception that Islam does somehow not approve of technology? Short answer: No.

Anyway, long introduction to what I hope is just a mere misunderstanding in a piece by Ali Al-Baghli, Kuwait’s former oil minister, in the Arab Times last week (thanks to blueserker), who writes an interesting article on the relationship between Muslims and technology. While I think I follow his tack, towards the end I share the confusion of blueserker who says “I’m really hoping there is a translation issue here”.

Al-Baghli’s main point is that technology can be used for good and bad. While ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘extremists’ have long opposed the use of technology, from satellite dishes to mobile phones, it is the extremists, he says, who have also benefitted from this such tools such as the mobile phone “because it can be used to carry out terrorist acts”. True: Jemaah Islamiyah relied on the mobile phone to plan and execute the Bali bombing in 2002. (It also led to their capture.)

But I lose him in his last paragraph on Bluetooth: “This device is being used by thousands of people and is most beneficial to engineers and medical staff because of the voice and view facility.” Can’t disagree so far. However he goes on:

This new device has sent shock waves in Kuwait because some young boys and girls make wrong use of it and the Ministry of Justice was prompt in forming a committee – comprising legal and legislative experts in addition to attorneys – to regulate its use. If what we have heard is right, the reaction is shameful. The Bluetooth is like a knife – you can use it in the kitchen while cooking or to kill someone. It is also like a ‘safe sex’ tool mostly used by whores to prevent pregnancies. Can we prevent people from using knives and ‘safe sex’ tools… just because some are making wrong use of it?

I can only assume the former minister is referring to the emergence of Bluetoothing — the art of picking up partners in public via Bluetooth — which, according to a comment added to this posting to Geek.com back in April, has been going on for quite a while in Kuwait. I have to confess, however, I’m not sure where the knives come in, and how, exactly, Bluetooth is used in safe sex. Can anyone explain?

How Secure Is Bluetooth?

Could people use Bluetooth to access your phone and steal confidential data? Apparently, yes.

A company specialising in security and encryption, London-based A.L. Digital Ltd, says it has discovered “serious flaws” in the way that some Bluetooth gadgets authenticate connect to other Bluetooth gadgets and share information. In two separate flaws, the company says:

  • The SNARF attack: confidential data can be obtained, anonymously, and without the owner’s knowledge or consent, from some Bluetooth enabled mobile phones. This data includes, at least, the entire phonebook and calendar;
  • The BACKDOOR attack: the complete memory contents of some mobile phones can be accessed by a previously trusted (“paired”) device that has since been removed from the trusted list. This data includes not only the phonebook and calendar, but media files such as pictures and text messages. In essence, the entire device can be “backed up” to an attacker’s own system.

There’s more detail here. Of course, just because someone’s found out this is possible, doesn’t mean it’s happening. But with Bluejacking becoming popular, the pairing of Bluetooth devices becomes commonplace. The other point is that it’s hard to see what benefit could be extracted from this sort of thing, except to grab some phone numbers.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a threat. In my part of the world, police have managed to roll up terrorist networks (Jemaah Islamiyah is the prime example) by looking through their handphone address book. If that kind of information could be gained remotely imagine the benefits for law enforcement, or crime, or extortionists, or politicians, or whatever. Just because we can’t see a use for it, just means our imaginations aren’t working properly.

What’s also worrying, according to CommDesign, a technical website, is that the company appeared to get short shrift from the manufacturers when it tried to show them what it had found, particularly Nokia. Given this issue first came to late last November, it would be good to know where the manufacturers are on this: I will follow this up with Nokia and post their response.