How Fitbits and trackers are exposing world's military secrets
THEY'RE some of the most secretive and clandestine places in the world but they could be threatened by something as simple as fitness tracking apps like Fitbit.
Data published by Strava, which markets itself as a social network for amateur athletes using fitness tracking apps, has been shown to potentially reveal the location of secret US military bases.
The company's app allows people to track their workouts and share them online. In November, the company released a series of online data visualisation maps which showed all the activity tracked by users of its app between 2015 and September 2017.
The maps which include Australia and the United States show every single activity ever uploaded to the Strava app. According to the company that amounts to more than 3 trillion individual GPS data points.
The problem is, some of it could be rather sensitive information.
Over the weekend Nathan Ruser, an analyst with the Institute for United Conflict Analysts, pointed out that while the "maps look pretty," they included US military bases which were "clearly identifiable and mappable," he wrote on Twitter.
"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," he added.
Mr Ruser, 20, who is currently studying international security at ANU, shared a number of images which purport to reveal FOBs (forward operating bases - commonly used to support tactical operations) established by Western countries.
Fellow security analyst Tobias Schneider also took to Twitter to share apparent military activity highlighted by the heat maps, writing: "A lot of people are going to have to sit thru (sic) lectures come Monday morning."
Joining the online chorus was former British Army officer Nick Waters who tweeted: "Patrol routes, isolated patrol bases, lots of stuff that could be turned into actionable intelligence."
In locations like Afghanistan, Syria and Djibouti the users of Strava seem to be almost exclusively foreign military personnel. As a result, the military bases stand out brightly against the dark backdrop of these Middle Eastern countries.
Speaking to the ABC, Mr Ruser recalled what he first thought when he looked closely at the images.
"You can see the main supply highway for US forces in Syria, and I just remember thinking: 'F**k, that's not good'."
The map of Australia, on the other hand, is covered in light due to the high rate of people who use the Strava apps and other related devices like Fitbit. Nonetheless, you can identify activity at Australia's Pine Gap outside of Alice Springs, including what appears to be a routine patrol lap.
News.com.au has reached out to the Department of Defence with questions about protocols in place regarding the use of such location tracking apps by servicemen and women while on site. At the time of publication it had yet to offer comment.
According to The Washington Post, the US military is looking into the matter.