U.S. troops exposed through exercise app


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An exercise app has accidentally revealed sensitive U.S. military information.

Technology has blessed modern society with countless things unimaginable even a decade ago. Apparently, this now includes inadvertently exposing U.S. military personnel through a fitness app.

The Global Heat Map, published by the app Strava — which calls itself the “social network for athletes” — uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service by illuminating areas of activity.

According to Strava, the company has more than 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices such as Fitbit and Jawbone, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app.

The map shows a pattern of accumulated activity between 2015 and last September.

The map is so rich and specific, that it is possible to see a single person biking around the outline of a lake or watch people undertaking the route in a triathlon.

But when you put enough soldiers in one area and they exercise in that location every day, their collective footprint can reveal things over time that no one was expecting.

“Recent data releases emphasize the need for situational awareness when members of the military share personal information,” Major Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokeswoman, was quoted as saying in The New York Times.

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An Australian college student realized that troops, by using exercise apps, were divulging their movements.

A 20-year-old international security student from Australia, Nathan Ruser, realized that the three trillion data points used to build the heat map were so specific that they could reveal sensitive military information.

“If soldiers use the app like normal people do, by turning it on tracking when they go to do exercise, it could be especially dangerous,” Ruser tweeted.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, demanded that Strava CEO James Quarles explain why his company published the heat map.

“The increasing popularity of fitness trackers and other wearable technology has raised serious questions about the types of data they collect and share and the degree to which consumers control their own personal information,” members of the committee wrote in a letter.

As technology changes rapidly, challenges — many of them unforeseen — concerning operational security and force protection have emerged.

“The Department of Defense takes matters like these very seriously and is reviewing the situation to determine if any additional training or guidance is required, and if any additional policy must be developed to ensure the continued safety of DoD personnel at home and abroad,” Major Harris said.

The outlines of U.S. military bases around the world light up the map, especially in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, because few locals own and use such fitness technology.

While the Pentagon looks for ways to respond, the information is a potential treasure for enemies.

“[Strava] is sitting on a ton of data that most intelligence entities would literally kill to acquire,” Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., wrote on Twitter.