The Bluetooth wireless standard is a great way to get computers and gadgets talking to each other. Here's how to set it up on Windows XP.
Bluetooth wireless support is showing up in all sorts of devices these days, and the software is easy to use. Few consumers know about it or know how to use it, though. This hack will expose you to the basics of Bluetooth and how to set up some Bluetooth devices, and it will point you to some good sources of information about the ways you can use Bluetooth in your life.
Some people confuse Bluetooth with the 802.11x standards (Wi-Fi), since they are both wireless technologies. But Wi-Fi is intended primarily for Internet data and connecting computers, while Bluetooth is used to communicate between a wide variety of devices. Where WiFi needs to get into every corner of your world to be effective, Bluetooth is best at short ranges. In fact, the effective range of most Bluetooth communications is about 32 feet (10 meters).
Bluetooth can be used to connect all kinds of different devicesPCs, cell phones, cell phone headsets, PDAs, keyboards, portable game systems, audio headphones, GPS receivers, printers, digital cameras, barcode scanners, medical equipment, and even your car. Each device supports one or more profiles that dictate what types of devices it can communicate with and how that communication will take place. If two devices share a profile, they can communicate; otherwise, they will not even make the attempt.
1.3.1. Installing Bluetooth
My own initiation into Bluetooth was when I needed a new mouse for my laptop. I had avoided buying one of the infrared wireless mice because of the line-of-sight issues, but a Bluetooth mouse seemed like just the ticket. I purchased a Bluetooth wireless mouse and a Bluetooth dongle that plugs into my laptop's USB port. In addition to the dongle-type adapters, you can also get permanent Bluetooth cards that go into the PCI slot of your desktop computer. The installation procedure is mostly the same.
The Plug-and-Play mechanism in Windows XP works so well that I usually just attach any new piece of hardware without bothering to use the software CD unless I have to. But due to the way that Bluetooth works, it's best to install the software first so that you have an opportunity to configure Bluetooth prior to using it.
When you install the software, you'll find the usual assortment of wizard pages, asking you where you want to install the software and such. The installer might display a warning about Bluetooth devices and signed drivers. This is a security precaution and a convenience for you. If you click OK, the installer will temporarily disable the signed drivers messages while installing the Bluetooth adapter. Otherwise, you would end up with a lot of messages about unsigned drivers.
Once the installation is complete, attach your Bluetooth adapter. If you have a PCI Bluetooth adapter, install the card in an open slot and restart your PC. Windows XP will detect the adapter and associate the drivers with those that you installed earlier. You will probably see several messages show up in the system tray as it installs the drivers for the Bluetooth adapter.
Once Windows XP has finished loading the drivers, you can start configuring your Bluetooth adapter. The My Bluetooth Places icon, shown in Figure 1-1, will open a window that allows you to discover and browse nearby Bluetooth devices. There is also an icon in the system tray for Bluetooth; it's a blue circle with the runic B on it. The B in the system tray icon changes color depending on the status of the Bluetooth connectionred for when no Bluetooth adapter is connected, white for when an adapter is connected, and green for when a device is communicating with your PC.
Figure 1-1. The My Bluetooth Places desktop icon
Open the My Bluetooth Places window. If you have a Bluetooth device nearby and it is turned on, it might show up on this list. Ignore any devices for the moment while we go through the configuration process. In the upper-left corner of My Bluetooth Places, there is a list of links under the heading Bluetooth Tasks. Click the link labeled Bluetooth Setup Wizard. The choices you are presented with, shown in Figure 1-2, pertain to how you want to use your Bluetooth adapter. For now, choose the last option, the one that begins with "I want to change the name…."
If you want to set up service for a particular type of device, such as a mouse or a printer, choose the button labeled "I know the service I want to use…." If you want to connect to a specific device (in case more than one person is using a Bluetooth device in your proximity), choose the button labeled "I want to find a specific Bluetooth device…" and click the Next button. In this screen, you provide the name of your computer and the type of computer you are using (laptop or desktop). I use a generic name for the computer because this value is broadcast to the world. People who attempt to hack into Bluetooth-connected computers could use this information to their advantage. Click the Finish button to go back to My Bluetooth Places.
Figure 1-2. Bluetooth Setup Wizard
If you haven't already done so, now would be a good time to turn on your Bluetooth device and make sure it is running properly. Click the Bluetooth Setup Wizard link again. This time, when presented with the wizard screen of choices, choose "I know the service I want to use…" and click the Next button. The wizard will present you with a complete list of items that it knows how to communicate with. This is where you will go if you want to add a printer or a headset in the future. To set up the mouse, scroll the list to the bottom, select Human Interface Device, and click the Next button.
The next screen, shown in Figure 1-3, will cause Windows XP to search for all Bluetooth devices in range. If your device does not show up, make sure it is powered on and operating correctly. There might be a Connect or Pair button on the device that you must press to start the communication with the PC. If many devices are in the area, you can use the pop-up box beneath the list to show only certain types of devices. If the device you want to connect is in the list, choose it and click the Next button.
At this point, the Bluetooth wizard will attempt to connect with the device. If all went well, you should see the confirmation window shown in Figure 1-4. This is your way of knowing the device you are looking for is available and communicating with your computer. Once you click the confirmation button, your mouse and your PC are paired. If you ever see this window and you weren't expecting it, it could be a sign that someone nearby is attempting to communicate with your computer via the Bluetooth connection.
Figure 1-3. Bluetooth Device Selection screen
Figure 1-4. Bluetooth confirmation dialog
If you are planning to add multiple Bluetooth products to your computer, you add them by going to the Bluetooth Setup Wizard and choosing the "I know the service I want to use…" option for each device. Different devices will follow the same instructions as we've done with the mouse in this example, although there might be device-specific settings that you will have to configure once the connection is made.
1.3.2. Securing Your Bluetooth Connection
Bluetooth can make your computing experience more convenient by eliminating some of the need for cables. Unfortunately, because the signal is being broadcast on open frequencies, anyone is free to listen in or even participate in the discussion. That's why it's necessary for you to take precautions.
The first precaution is to enable only the services you need for your computer. In the Bluetooth Setup Wizard, the choice labeled "I want to configure the Bluetooth services…" allows you to enable and disable different types of Bluetooth communications. Disable any types of communications that you do not plan to use at that moment. Click the Finish button when you have made the changes you need. These services can be easily reenabled through the Bluetooth Setup Wizard or from the link labeled View My Bluetooth Services.
The next precaution involves locking out other devices. Go to My Bluetooth Places and choose the link labeled "View or modify configuration." The Bluetooth Configuration screen, shown in Figure 1-5, allows you to choose how your Bluetooth connection communicates to the outside world.
Click the tab labeled Accessibility. Remove the check mark from the box labeled "Let Bluetooth devices discover this computer." This will prevent unwelcome intrusions by unknown devices. The Discovery tab allows you to configure which devices your connection can discover. This is useful if you are in an office environment with many different types of Bluetooth devices. The Local Services tab lets you configure how various types of devices interact with software services installed on your PC. This will be necessary for synchronizing a PDA, listening to music, or transferring files.
Two of the more publicized Bluetooth security problems are called Bluejacking and Bluesnarfing. Both of these exploits require the attacker to be within communication range of the victim, which is less than 32 feet (10 meters) for most phones and laptops. Bluejacking involves the unsolicited receipt of messages to a Bluetooth device, usually a phone. It's primarily used as a prank; your phone starts vibrating and you get a message criticizing your hairstyle or the brand of phone you are using. Your attacker will be close by, and chances are good that he is around 15 years old. Bluesnarfing is more dangerous because the attacker is out to retrieve datebook and contact information from your phone. In both cases, if you disable the Bluetooth features of your phone when you aren't using them, you won't have these problems.
Figure 1-5. Bluetooth Configuration screen
1.3.3. Networking with Bluetooth
Bluetooth provides many of the same features Wi-Fi does. Bluetooth has a maximum data transmission rate of somewhere around 100,000 bytes per second, which is much lower than 802.11. Plus, its limited range means all the parties must be in very close proximity. For these reason, it's not an effective competitor to 802.11 for day-to-day wireless networking.
There are times, however, when an ad hoc wireless network using Bluetooth could be useful. If no network is present and no one has a floppy or flash drive handy, you can use a Bluetooth connection between the computers to share files. Keep in mind that the data rate for Bluetooth is miniscule compared to 802.11, so use it sparingly.
For details on how to pair your PC via Bluetooth with another device such as a cell phone to connect to the Internet, see "Connect Windows XP with a Bluetooth Phone" [Hack #5].
1.3.4. See Also
Bluetooth, Mobile Phones, and GPS
Network Discovery and Monitoring
Wireless Network Design
Appendix A. Wireless Standards
Appendix B. Wireless Hardware Guide