Strava Fitness app reveals the position of secret military bases

In 2013, as part of a plan to fight obesity, the Pentagon distributed 2,500 Fitbit wristbands to its military personnel. These connected bracelets sent data to the Strava service to map the routes taken by the athletes, ended up revealing the position of some of their military bases.

The Strava website allows athletes to track progress and compare their performances to others, using a mobile application or a connected bracelet like Jawbone or Fitbit. In November, Strava updated its thermal map published for the first time in 2015. It shows with bright lines on a black background routes used by individuals for jogging, cycling, or swimming. The goal is to highlight the most popular training routes, or conversely, the less known ones.

To achieve this map, the site relied on 10 terabytes of raw data recorded between 2015 and 2017, six times more than in the previous version. The activities of the users of the application are not relayed live, and the routes taken are not nominative. This means that routes can not be accurately dated or attributed to a specific person. Despite this, the development of these training courses can lead to the disclosure of sensitive data.

Some conflict zones such as Syria, Iraq, Niger or Djibouti are located in the desert or in the open countryside. On the map of Strava, these areas where no sports activity is recorded by the application appear in black. In the midst of some of them, bright lines attract attention. The only people likely to use Strava in these areas are the Western troops posted there. By zooming in on the map, users are able to see their potential training courses to derive information on the configuration of their military bases.

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

The problem was identified by Nathan Ruser, a 20-year-old Australian studying international security and the Middle East.

On Sunday, US Central Command spokesman John Thomas said the US military was studying the problem. “The recent publication of data highlights the need to be aware of one’s environment,” said the colonel. In other words, soldiers deployed in conflict zones or secret bases should be more cautious.