Following a Digital Trail Fitness Trackers Reveal Sensitive Military Data Joggers' Identities, Routes around Bases, Other Sites Can Be Determined

By Liz Sly Washington Post | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), January 30, 2018 | Go to article overview

Following a Digital Trail Fitness Trackers Reveal Sensitive Military Data Joggers' Identities, Routes around Bases, Other Sites Can Be Determined


Liz Sly Washington Post, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


BEIRUT - The U.S. military said Monday that it is adjusting guidelines for the use of all wireless and technological devices on military facilities amid revelations that fitness trackers can be used to expose the identities of individuals working in sensitive and hazardous locations.

The review came after reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere that a global heat map posted online by the fitness-tracking company Strava reveals the outlines of U.S. military bases in some of the most dangerous locations in the world - along with the routes taken by supply convoys and patrols.

In the latest discoveries on Monday, experts and internet sleuths found further ways of using the publicly available Strava data to identify individual users of the tracking service by name, along with the jogging routes they use in war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

On one of the Strava sites, it is possible to click on a frequently used jogging route and see who runs the route and at what times. One Strava user demonstrated how to use the map and Google to identify by name a U.S. Army major and his running route at a base in Afghanistan.

On another Internet site, it is possible to establish the names and hometowns of individuals who have signed up for a social sharing network where runners post their routes and speeds. One popular route on a base in Iraq has been nicknamed "Base Perimeter" by the U.S. runners who regularly use it. Another outside the big U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is called "Sniper Alley."

The U.S. military said in an emailed response to questions from The Post on Monday that new technologies pose challenges that are constantly being reviewed.

"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. We constantly refine policies and procedures to address such challenges," said the Central Command press office in Kuwait, which speaks for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State. Some of the most readily identifiable bases exposed by the Strava data are in remote locations in Syria and Iraq, where U.S. forces are battling the Islamic State group.

The existing rules on the privacy settings relating to devices such as fitness trackers are being "refined" and commanders at bases are being urged to enforce existing rules governing their use, the statement added.

"The Coalition is in the process of implementing refined guidance on privacy settings for wireless technologies and applications, and such technologies are forbidden at certain Coalition sites and during certain activities," the statement said. "We will not divulge specific tactics, techniques and procedures. However, we have confidence in our commanders' abilities to enforce established policies that enhance force protection and operational security with the least impact to our personnel."

Strava issued a new statement saying that it takes the safety of its users seriously. The company "is committed to working with military and government officials to address sensitive areas that might appear," the statement said. …

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