Sony Ericsson phones open to 'snarf' attack

The company advises some owners to turn off Bluetooth on their phones after confirming that five handsets are vulnerable to "snarfing," in which personal data can be stolen without the owner's knowledge.

Munir Kotadia Special to CNET News
2 min read
Sony Ericsson has confirmed that two of its cell phones and three Ericsson handsets are vulnerable to a "snarfing" attack.

The confirmation comes just days after Nokia said that some of its handsets have the same problem, which can allow an attacker to read, modify and copy a phone's contacts book, calendar and other data without requiring the victim's device to "pair" with another Bluetooth device.

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"It has come to our attention that it is possible for a remote Bluetooth computer to extract personal information from a phone with Bluetooth even if it is unpaired," a Sony Ericsson representative said.

The representative told ZDNet UK that the problem affects the Sony Ericsson T610 and T68i handsets as well as the Ericsson T39, R520 and T68 models.

The problem has apparently been fixed in handsets that are sold today, but the spokesman advised customers to ensure they have the latest software in their phones: "Consumers can check which version of the software they have by typing >*<<*<* from the standby screen (the chevrons indicate left and right movements of the mouse button on the phone) and then selecting "ServiceInfo/SW" then "Information" from the menus.

If customers find they have the software version R1A081, the representative said they should contact an authorized Sony Ericsson service centre to get their phone upgraded.

Additionally, Sony Ericsson suggests users "set Bluetooth to hide, or simply turn off Bluetooth when it is not being used," as a "preventative action."

Adam Laurie, chief security officer at networking and security firm AL Digital, demonstrated a snarfing attack to ZDNet UK on Wednesday. He was using a Dell Bluetooth-enabled laptop with a Linux operating system running a snarf program he had written.

Laurie is unsure if the security flaw exists in the actual Bluetooth standard or in the handset manufacturers' implementation of it. But, as he claims that the attack can only penetrate 80 percent of Bluetooth handsets, it is more likely to be early implementations of the standard that are at fault rather than the standard itself.

According to Laurie, most Bluetooth users shouldn't be overly worried, because the tools required to launch a snarfing attack are not in the public domain. But he believes it is only a matter of time before they are available. "Someone would not just stumble on this vulnerability; they would have to be looking for it. But now people know that it is possible, they will be looking," he said.

Munir Kodatia of ZDNet UK reported from London.