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Hack decodes Android phone, Samsung smartwatch data exchange

Researchers at Bitdefender have demonstrated just how susceptible encrypted communications between wearable technology and Android smartphones are to being cracked and laid bare to prying eyes.

In a research report sent to, the Romania-based security firm explained that their findings were “pretty consistent with [their] expectations” that, without a great deal of effort, an attacker could intercept and decode such data, which includes everything from text messages to Google Hangout chats and Facebook conversations.

For the proof-of-concept attack (video), researchers demonstrated the hack on a Samsung Gear Live smartwatch and a paired Google Nexus 4 device running Android L Preview.

“Bluetooth communication between smartwatch and Android devices involved Bluetooth communication using 6-digit pin codes to obfuscate the broadcast and prevent any curious newbie from seeing entire conversations in plain text with a sniffing tool,” the report explained.

In a Wednesday interview with, Liviu Arsene, senior e-threat analyst at Bitdefender, said that the encryption method employed by Android devices was “quite easy to brute-force” using just about any open source sniffing tool.

“There is no custom-built tool,” Arsene said of the POC. “Anyone with little knowledge of security can pull this off. It's all about looking in the right place,” he added.

To prevent such attacks, use of near field communication (NFC), to safely deliver a pin code to compatible smartwatches during pairing, for instance, could work, Arsene said in his interview. Employing passphrases during device pairing, “something that's a lot more challenging to brute-force,” could also be an option, he said.

The report noted, however, that the drawback in relying on NFC is that not all mobile devices or smartwatches have the capability. In addition, “using passphrases is also tedious as it would involve manually typing a possibly randomly generated string onto the wearable smartwatch,” the report said.

Lastly, a step requiring action by Google or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) was mentioned as an alternative.

“Or we could supersede the entire Bluetooth encryption between Android device and smartwatch and use a secondary layer of encryption at the application level,” the report offered. “This, however, should be implemented either by Google or OEMs and it might impact the smartwatch's battery lifetime, as encryption involves heavy computations.”

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