The U.S. military is currently redefining certain practices after an apparent security oversight involving U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and the fitness tracking device, Fitbit. In November 2017, GPS tracking company Strava published a global heat map, which details the movements of individuals wearing fitness devices from 2015 to 2017. Fitbit customers are included on the heat map.
This map gained the attention of the U.S. military when Nathan Ruser, a 20-year-old Australian student, tweeted Jan. 27 about how the map “made military bases clearly identifiable and mappable.” Two days later the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State issued a statement explaining that security procedures regarding fitness trackers and related technology is now being revised. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Department of Defense were made aware of the situation and involved in redesigning security protocol.
Strava released their global heatmap. 13 trillion GPS points from their users (turning off data sharing is an option). https://t.co/hA6jcxfBQI … It looks very pretty, but not amazing for Op-Sec. US Bases are clearly identifiable and mappable pic.twitter.com/rBgGnOzasq
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) January 27, 2018
“The rapid development of new and innovative information technologies enhances the quality of our lives but also poses potential challenges to operational security and force protection,” the statement said.
According to open-source imagery analyst Scott Lafoy, it is still too early to determine how useful the map data really is. Having the ability to track movements in military bases can give more insight into patrol routes or where specific personnel, such as diplomats, are. Other Twitter users potentially located U.S. special operations in Africa, a Patriot missile base and a suspected CIA site in Somalia.
“If the data is not actually anonymous, then you can start figuring out timetables and like some very tactical information, and then you start getting into some pretty serious issues,” LaFoy said.
Strava stated that the information available on the global heat map is completely anonymous and does not include movement in “private” or “user-defined privacy zones.”
The Pentagon issued over 2,500 Fitbits as part of a program to fight obesity. It is still unclear whether these government-issued fitness trackers provided any of the information shown on Strava’s global heat map. A spokesperson from U.S. Central Command stated that the military is constantly working to refine security policies to address any challenges that come up.
Photo courtesy of Daily Express.