May 26, 2015 · 1 minute

Your smartwatch can be tracked.

Wearable products need to transmit data to function. Many don't work without a connection to a smartphone. And because it would be silly to walk around with a cord between the devices, that connection is made via Bluetooth Low Energy.

Context Information Security has found that these connections can be used to identify smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other products that rely on BLE. And they've released an Android app that can track these signals to prove it.

Here's how Context's Scott Lester explained the issue to Help Net Security:

'Using cheap hardware or a smartphone, it could be possible to identify and locate a particular device – that may belong to a celebrity, politician or senior business executive – within 100 meters in the open air. This information could be used for social engineering as part of a planned cyber attack or for physical crime by knowing peoples’ movements.'
Exploiting this knowledge isn't even particularly hard. It's not like other research, which can guess at an Android smartphone's location based on how much battery power it's using or spy on air gapped computers via heat changes.

Nope. Taking advantage of this vulnerability only requires cheap hardware, a laptop, or an Android smartphone that can download apps from the official Play Store. That's not nearly as exciting, but that doesn't mean it isn't worrisome.

Lester blames the problem on the rush to get wearable products to market:

'It is clear that BLE is a powerful technology, which is increasingly being put to a wide range of uses,' concludes Context’s Lester. 'While the ability to detect and track devices may not present a serious risk in itself, it certainly has the potential to compromise privacy and could be part of a wider social engineering threat. It is also yet another demonstration of the lack of thought that goes into security when companies are in a rush to get new technology products to market.'
That's worth thinking about the next time a new product category becomes very popular -- at least among manufacturers -- in a relatively short amount of time. But, hey, it's not like wearable products are worn by anyone important, anyway.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]