Can My Bluetooth Hearing Aids Get Hacked?

Time To Read: 7 minutes

At Value Hearing, we get asked plenty of thoughtful questions from our clients about their hearing aids. Most recently, the questions have centred on Bluetooth technology.

  • What Is Bluetooth
  • What Is Hacking
  • Is There Cause For Concern
  • Aren't WIFI and Bluetooth The Same?
  • What You Can Do About Security

Depositphotos_60189251_xl-2015One question has been on radio frequency radiation and now a client has asked a question about the cyber security of Bluetooth hearing aids.

Before we get into that, first we’ll do a little introduction.

What Is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a standard for the short-range wireless interconnection of mobile phones, computers, and other electronic devices.

It operates on a radio frequency (yes, just like radio or television).

Bluetooth is also increasingly used  in modern hearing aids to provide the convenience of pairing your hearing aids to mobile phones, televisions and other streaming devices. It also allows you to use your mobile phone as a ‘remote control’ for your hearing aids and, increasingly you will be able to work with your audiologist to remotely troubleshoot and reprogram your hearing aids.

We’ve got a great article on Bluetooth hearing aid technology right here.

What Is Hacking?

Hacking is a term with a frightening connotations but it has two very different meanings.

There’s hacking, where technologically-minded people tinker with hardware and software they own, either for their own amusement, simple curiosity, or with a desire to make ‘improvements’.

Then there is the other type: hackers who are criminals looking to extort money from individuals or companies. Or hackers may be malicious vandals who destroy and disrupt things simply because they can.

Hearing aid manufacturers, along with manufacturers of all types of Bluetooth devices, are well aware of this - and they are extremely mindful of security. Did you know that General James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence of the United States received security clearance to wear his Bluetooth hearing aids back in 2016?

Is There Cause For Concern?

Value Hearing looks at whether Bluetooth hearing aids can be hacked. All hearing aid manufacturers take cyber security seriously

Two of the world’s leading hearing aid manufacturers have provided clear advice. Malicious hacking of Bluetooth hearing aids is highly unlikely.

Signia addressed this issue last year:

...medical device manufacturers like Signia are committed to removing the risk of hacking. Through secure wireless technology and encryptions, you can be confident your Signia hearing aids work as intended, have a high level of cyber security, and remain out of hackers’ reach.

The advice we’ve received from Phonak is:

The hearing aids do not use WiFi, so hacking using this connection is not possible. The hearing aids are discoverable via Bluetooth for 3 minutes after switch on, so it is possible for others to connect to them during this period if within physical range and if they (the hearing aid wearer) isn't actively connected to the device.

But aren’t WIFI and Bluetooth the same thing?

No, they’re not, although it’s easy to get them confused because they broadly do the same thing: transmit data wirelessly.

Lots of devices have both WIFI and Bluetooth (like your smartphone) and both types of technology can operate independently of one another.

The important difference to remember is that Bluetooth is a direct ‘device-to-device technology’. That means you have to actively “pair” the two devices being linked. Bluetooth has also been described as acting like a cord between the two devices by creating a secure, wireless personal area network in which these devices can communicate.

WIFI is more like radio station broadcaster, where anyone can connect (if they have the correct password)

What you can do about security

Phonak has sensible advice to keep your hearing aids secure - and the same general advice applies to any of your WIFI and Bluetooth devices, regardless of type or manufacturer:

  • Avoid rebooting Marvel devices in public areas (as hearing aids are discoverable via Bluetooth for 3 minutes after switch on)
  • Maintain an active connection with a personal Bluetooth enabled device when in public. As the Marvel devices only have one connection slot, this will mitigate other people detecting and connecting to the device.
  • If Bluetooth is not being used, switch your aids over to Flight Mode.  To activate Flight Mode, press lower program button and switch device on, hold button for 7 seconds and release)

We hope you’ve found this article interesting and informative. If you have any questions about hearing and hearing aids, that you'd like us to answer, just let us know!

Further reading