Be careful with your Bluetooth
On July 1, 2008, laws in California and Washington went into effect requiring all drivers to use so called "hands free" devices when making cell phone calls. Currently, five states have such bans, and such legislation is being bandied about here.
There are basically three ways to facilitate hands-free cell phone use. First, you can use the built-in speaker capability of your cell phone. Most phones have speaker capabilities, but this isn't always the most reliable technology, especially in a moving car.
An alternative is to use a wired earpiece, the likes of which have been around nearly since the advent of the cell phone. Just about every phone out there has a puka to accommodate the earpiece plug. Such earpieces can be had just about anywhere electronics are sold for $10 to $15. The problem is, of course, that the wire tends to get tangled in some pretty inconvenient places.
The last and best choice is a wireless solution based on Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth is the de facto wireless communications standard for cell phones and other devices, and facilitates hands-free calls.
By now, almost everyone is familiar with the Bluetooth earpiece, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Bluetooth earpieces start at about $20 and can be as expensive as $200 for the fancier models.
Furthermore, many new cars are now coming with Bluetooth- enabled communications systems. Such systems come with microphones and speakers that allow relatively high quality, hands-free calling while in the car. Alternatively, after-market kits allow Bluetooth communications to be installed in a car.
Sounds great, right?
Unfortunately, like everything else nowadays, Bluetooth devices are susceptible to attack by hackers. This usually happens when folks don't take some simple precautions.
For example, many folks leave their phones and Bluetooth devices in "pairing" or "discovery" mode all the time, and do not change the default security code or PIN. In such cases, any bad guy worth his weight in salt could easily hack into your cell phone, steal data, listen to your calls, make calls and send texts, among other things.
Even more troubling is that some older Bluetooth systems - especially those built into cars before 2007 - are equipped with a feature known as "auto pairing," and have a PIN that can't be changed.
What to do?
Certainly if you are purchasing a Bluetooth device, make sure that the "discovery" mode can be turned off, which is true for most products on the market today. Note that once you've performed the initial pairing of your cell phone and Bluetooth device, you can turn off discovery mode and go into "hidden" mode, where everything will work just fine but bad guys will have a much harder time hacking in.
If you have an older Bluetooth phone or device that continually remains in pairing mode, leave it turned off until you need to make a call. Or contact the manufacturer and see if a patch or fix is available.
John Agsalud is president of ISDI Technologies Inc., based in Honolulu. He can be reached at email@example.com