While driving down to see my friend Khalil yesterday, I decided to stop off at the Winchester services for a break and a coffee. Having been on the road for almost 3 hours, I was due sometime out the car, so after a quick makeup pitstop, I went to Costa for a salad and a vanilla latte. You know the sort of place, comfy sofas to relax into, a wifi connection for my kindle and lots of opportunity to people watch and relax.
Except this time, things were a little different, I hadn’t long sat down and was munching my way through my meal, when a man I had never seen before, bold as brass, came right upto, pulled the chair opposite me away from the table and said “Excuse me Joanna, is this seat taken ?”
Looking round the café, even though it was reasonably empty, I felt the world close in on me and puzzled, I looked at him and managed to stammer “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met before, do I know you ?”
“No” he replied “no, we haven’t I guessed your name from your phone name when I scanned for phones near me on Bluetooth……..”
Talk about Icky !!!
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that exposed and vulnerable. I felt really threatened and more than a little freaked out. Standing up and making a bolt for it, I only caught part of his apology. But it didn’t matter, I wasn’t really in the mood for it. For the remaining 30 mins or so of my drive down to Southampton, frantically tried to think how it had happened and what else he had managed to get from my phone.
Driving can sometimes be a good thing, you get space away from things to think, but with something like this on your mind, it doesn’t feel like a good thing !! So I called my brother, know’er of all things technical and asked him what had happened and how much of a problem it was. It turns out its a really common thing and is a tactic regularly used by men in nightclubs and literally anyone can do it, all it needs is for you to be a little lazy in the name of convenience. Like you, I leave the Bluetooth on my phone on, along with my wifi sense, so that when I get home, or am in the car, my phone connects automatically and I can take calls, send messages, browse the internet seamlessly. But this very convenience is what makes you vulnerable to this sort of event. Bluetooth is apparently a protocol for receiving and transmitting, so all the time it is on, it means that you’re broadcasting your phones id for someone, anyone, to see it. In my case, it (used to) transmit the name of my phone “Joanna’s phone” which I had created when I first signed in with my email address. There it was, beaming out my name for all to see.
“How do I stop it ?” I asked – it turns out it’s really simple. “Switch it off and use it only when you need to” he said. “But that’s not so convenient” I complained. “Then you had better get used to saying hi to a lot more people” he laughed. Point made. Switch it off ! Fortunately, though, unless you set up a connection or accept it, there’s little risk to you in terms of other data being stolen, but you have to be sure to change your pin (which allows devices to connect securely) from the default 0000 and also only accept connections from people you know. Fortunately, I have an ace little brother who can do this for me, if you don’t it’s well worth looking into to make sure you aren’t affected in the same way.
Stay safe online and when out and about