BLUR attacks

Cross-transport key derivation (CTKD) is a Bluetooth standard security mechanism allowing to pair two devices over Bluetooth Classic (BT) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) at the same time. CTKD was introduced in 2014 with Bluetooth v4.2 as a usability feature. However, no research work analyzed the security implications introduced by CTKD, despite its critical role for Bluetooth security. For example, CTKD, by design, allows crossing the security boundary between BT and BLE as security keys for both transports are generated trusting only one transport and is completely transparent to the end-user.

In this work, we provide the first security evaluation of CTKD, and we uncover previously unknown issues in its specification. For example, CTKD introduces a new way to pair two devices that can be exploited in several ways, and it allows to tamper with Bluetooth security keys across BT and BLE. The issues affect all devices supporting CTKD regardless of their Bluetooth version (e.g. v4.2, 5.0, 5.1, 5.2) and security modes (e.g., Secure Connections, SSP, strong association). To demonstrate the severity of the uncovered issues, we successfully conducted high-impact attacks exploiting CTKD. Our attacks are the first cross-transport attacks in the Bluetooth context. The attacks enable impersonating arbitrary devices, man-in-the-middle devices, and stealthily establishing unintended BT and BLE sessions as anonymous devices.


Here, we provide more details about a set of novel and standard-compliant Bluetooth vulnerabilities affecting both Bluetooth Classic (BT) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The uncovered vulnerabilities affect a security mechanism called cross-transport key derivation (CTKD). CTKD is used to improve the usability of Bluetooth pairing by allowing to generate BT and BLE pairing keys just by pairing two devices either on BT or BLE (rather than pairing them two times).

However, we find that CTKD introduces cross-transport security issues and that an attacker can abuse those issues to attack BT from BLE and vice versa. In particular, our attacks enable to impersonate, man-in-the-middle, and establish malicious sessions with arbitrary devices by abusing CTKD, while defeating all the security mechanisms put in place by BT and BLE. Our work is named BLURtooth and the related attacks are called BLUR attacks as they blur the security boundary between BT and BLE.

The team behind this work consists of Daniele Antonioli and Mathias Payer from the HexHive group at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Nils Ole Tippenhauer from Helmholtz Center for Information Security (CISPA), and Kasper Rasmussen from the University of Oxford.

In the remainder of this document, we provide information on technical details, disclosure, impact, our proposed mitigation, the response from the Bluetooth SIG.

Technical Details

The Bluetooth standard specifies two transports: Bluetooth Classic (BT) for high-throughput wireless services and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for very low-power scenarios. BT and BLE have dedicated pairing protocols and devices have to pair over BT and BLE to use both securely. In 2014, the Bluetooth standard (v4.2) addressed this usability issue by introducing Cross-Transport Key Derivation (CTKD). CTKD allows establishing BT and BLE pairing keys just by pairing over one of the two transports. While CTKD crosses the security boundary between BT and BLE, little is known about the internals of CTKD and its security implications.

In this work, we present the first complete description of CTKD obtained by merging the scattered information from the Bluetooth standard with the results from our reverse-engineering experiments. Then, we perform a security evaluation of CTKD and uncover four cross-transport issues in its specification. We leverage these issues to design four standard-compliant attacks on CTKD enabling new ways to exploit Bluetooth (e.g., exploiting BT and BLE by targeting only one of the two). Our attacks work even if the strongest security mechanism for BT and BLE are in place, including Numeric Comparison and Secure Connections. They allow to impersonate, man-in-the-middle, and establish unintended sessions with arbitrary devices. We refer to our attacks as BLUR attacks, as they blur the security boundary between BT and BLE. We provide a low-cost implementation of the BLUR attacks and we successfully evaluate them on 14 devices with 16 unique Bluetooth chips from popular vendors. We discuss the attacks’ root causes and present effective countermeasures to fix them. We disclosed our findings and countermeasures to the Bluetooth SIG in May 2020 (CVE-2020-15802), and we reported additional unmitigated issues in May 2021.

Those are very serious attacks that violate the security guarantees promised by Bluetooth. We confirmed the feasibility of our attacks by testing them on 16 common Bluetooth devices using 14 unique Bluetooth chips. All of them were vulnerable.

You will find technical details about CTKD, our security analysis, a detailed discussion of the threads, a discussion, and potential mitigations in our paper.


We discovered the vulnerability in March 2020 and responsibly disclosed our findings along with suggested countermeasures to the Bluetooth SIG in May 2020. We kept our findings private and the Bluetooth SIG publicly disclosed them, without informing us, on the 10th of September of 2020. Our work is assigned CVE-2020-15802. We reported additional unmitigated issues in May 2021 and, in November 21 are still waiting for the SIG’s reply.


The BLUR attacks are a significant threat for all Bluetooth users and the related vulnerabilities remain 0-days. Our claim is backed up by our experimental results where we successfully conducted impersonation, man-in-the-middle, and malicious sessions establishment attacks on 13 different devices. Our device sample include manufacturers such as Dell, Google, Lenovo, Samsung, and Sony, operating systems, such as Windows 10, Linux, and Android, and Bluetooth chip manufacturers such as Cypress, Qualcomm, Intel, Broadcom, and Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR).

Our Mitigations

As part of our disclosure, we provided concrete fixes to combat the BLUR attacks. In particular, we recommended disabling the capability to overwrite keys via CTKD in certain circumstances, enforce strong association and Secure Connections and roles across BT and BLE, disable pairing over BT and/or BLE when not needed, and add user notifications in case of odd behaviors. Our fixes can be implemented at the standard level and do not require vendor-specific features.

Response from the Bluetooth SIG

At the time of writing, there are no deployed patches to address the BLUR attacks on actual devices. The Bluetooth SIG suggested that from version 5.1 onwards, the standard contains measures to mitigate the BLUR attacks (i.e., disable key overwrites in certain circumstances as proposed in our countermeasures). The Bluetooth SIG provides a public statement about BLURtooth and the BLUR attacks.

As devices with BT 5.1 and later are not widely available yet, we were only able to verify this with two BT 5.1 and one BT 5.2 devices. In all cases, our attack still works. For more details, see the latest version of the paper.

Publication efforts

We have submitted the paper several times and are including the full set of reviews on this page. This may in fact be the hardest paper we’ve ever worked on given the amount of resistance, randomness, and ghosting we received from reviewers. While the first rejection from CCS2020 clearly improved the paper, the last rejected focused primarily on small language issues and ever-extending our set of evaluated devices. As can be seen in the diff, each time we carefully addressed the reviewer feedback and rewrote large sections of the paper.

The major changes between each version are the following:

Venue Scores Outcome Response / Changes
AsiaCCS 2022 mmw Shepherded accept Final Paper
Oakland 2022 AMMR Rejected Paper; Diff; Rebuttal
NDSS 2022 MMMwR Rejected Paper;
CCS 2021 NNNw Major revision to reject Diff to SEC; Paper; Revision Diff; Revision
Usenix SEC 2021 mMMw Major revision to reject Paper; Diff; Revision
CCS 2020 ww Early rejected Paper

Scores are as follows: Accept; minor revision; Major revision; Neutral; weak reject, Reject.