Should You Turn Off Bluetooth When Not in Use?


Man holding a smartphone near a Bluetooth speaker

Bluetooth has infiltrated every part of my life. From my phone and car to my earbuds and even the smart fridge. I usually never bother to turn it off since it allows for seamless connection between different devices. However, with hackers getting more creative every day, I wonder if leaving it on is a wise decision. 

Since Bluetooth is a communication protocol between electronic devices, leaving it on all the time exposes your devices and your data to Bluetooth attacks from hackers. That’s why it’s best to turn it off when you’re not using it. 

Let’s dive deeper and figure out why you should turn off Bluetooth when not in use. 

Bluetooth attacks 

Hackers have several ways of attacking vulnerable Bluetooth connections. While there have been many types of Bluetooth attacks throughout the years, in recent times, nothing has affected more devices than BlueBorne. It’s an attack vector that was first detected by the cybersecurity firm Armis back in 2017

According to Armis, BlueBorne renders almost all devices with Bluetooth capabilities vulnerable to hackers. That means over 8 billion devices were vulnerable to malicious attacks. Moreover, that’s the 2017 number. Since then, just the sale of truly wireless earbuds added more than half a billion Bluetooth devices on a global scale.   

BlueBorne was an especially sinister attack vector since it eliminated the need for an internet connection or pairing to a Bluetooth device for attacking it. It was an airborne attack vector that spread through the air. While most manufacturers have released security updates to patch the vulnerability, it goes to show the severity of Bluetooth attacks. 

During a Bluetooth attack, a hacker usually operates with a multi-staged plan to get complete access to your device. Here’s how it works:

  • A hacker scans for nearby Bluetooth devices and checks their MAC address. 
  • After identifying the MAC address, the hacker tries to find out its operating system and hunts for vulnerabilities that could be exploited. 
  • If your device has security vulnerabilities, the hacker proceeds to exploit them and extracts as much personal information from the device as possible. 
  • If the vulnerabilities allow it, a hacker can also gain full control over your device. They can even infect your device with viruses, adware, spyware, or even ransomware. They can call or text people from your contact list and do everything you can from your phone. 

While BlueBorne isn’t an issue anymore, other Bluetooth vulnerabilities pop up from time to time. That’s why it’s best to turn off Bluetooth when not in use. 

Alternatives to turning off Bluetooth

Despite the Bluetooth attacks and warnings from cybersecurity experts, most people aren’t keen on turning off Bluetooth on their devices, especially phones. If you would have asked me to turn off the Bluetooth when not in use, I would have obliged. However, that has become impossible and very inconvenient with the rise of Bluetooth-enabled wireless accessories. 

Since most people like me have switched to wireless earbuds, turning the Bluetooth on and off several times a day feels inconvenient and not organic at all. It’s similar to how we keep using social media despite knowing the privacy risks. 

Most people are prepared to trade a tiny intangible part of themselves for more convenience and free services. That’s why I don’t really recommend people to turn off their Bluetooth several times throughout the day. 

Instead, I’ve found that updating your phone or computer’s software and the firmware of your Bluetooth devices works better. When cybersecurity companies and other such experts in the field find a Bluetooth vulnerability, they make the information public. Reputed tech brands work on a patch and push it to their devices via updates. That’s why I recommend most people to just keep their devices updated. 

That’s why you should avoid using devices that don’t get official updates from the manufacturer anymore. For instance, if you’re still holding on to that iPhone 6, it hasn’t received any security updates in a long while. You may as well advertise to hackers that your data is up for grabs. 

For the same reason, you shouldn’t buy Bluetooth devices from random companies that don’t support their device with regular software updates. 

To summarize, if you’re not keen on turning off the Bluetooth while not in use:

  • Make sure to keep your Bluetooth-enabled device updated.
  • Don’t use outdated devices that don’t get software updates. 
  • Don’t use Bluetooth devices from random manufacturers that don’t support their devices with software updates. 

What happens when I keep Bluetooth turned on throughout the day?

Apart from being vulnerable to Bluetooth attack vectors, there aren’t too many disadvantages. Modern Bluetooth technology consumes an insignificant amount of power in idle mode and won’t significantly affect your phone or computer’s battery life. 

Bluetooth technology has been improving over the years and the latest version has BLE(Bluetooth Low Energy) that consumes a measly 0.01 to 0.25 watts. With the battery capacity on modern smartphones, that kind of power consumption is almost negligible. 

While Bluetooth consumes a significant amount of power while it is actively used for streaming music to your earbuds, in idle mode it consumes an insignificant amount that won’t have any noticeable effects on your phone’s battery life. 

Bluetooth gets a bad rap for being battery hungry due to the first couple of generations of this technology. In its early years, Bluetooth consumed a lot of power and was basically garbage compared to today’s standards. So, if battery life is a concern, it doesn’t need to be. 

Conclusion

Bluetooth has come a long way and is present in more devices than ever before. That’s why hackers are incentivized to find vulnerabilities in the technology so that they can hack a maximum number of devices with their available resources. That’s why it’s important to protect your data from Bluetooth hacks. 

Make sure to turn off Bluetooth when not in use. If that’s not possible, make sure that you keep all your devices updated. I hope this article was helpful to you.

Difference between Bluetooth versio...
Difference between Bluetooth versions

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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