U.S. soldiers are some of the most health-minded folks in the country, so it’s no surprise that they comprise a large portion of the user base of certain fitness apps. As it turns out, those GPS-enabled apps are compromising the locations of secret military installations by creating maps of where their users are situated – even if those locations are meant to remain classified.
GPS tracking company Strava maintains a so-called Global Heat Map, or a visual representation of user activity by location that lights up areas where more people are online, the Washington Post reported.
Predictably, urban hubs throughout the United States and beyond are brightly lit up, particularly in parks and residential areas where people tend to perform outdoor activities. In remote parts of the world, the map is dark… except in certain locales in Iraq and Syria, where soldiers deployed overseas are inadvertently giving away their position by tracking their workouts.
This security oversight prompted the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State to change its approach to wireless technology in general, potentially resulting in broader privacy settings on fitness trackers and a fresh crackdown on enforcing rules that are already in place.
“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 Central Command press office said in a statement. “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 Global Heat Map’s potential security flaws were originally noticed by Nathan Ruser, a 20-year-old Australian student studying international security and the Middle East.
“I wondered, does it show U.S. soldiers?” he recalled thinking before zooming in on Syria. “It sort of lit up like a Christmas tree.”
Ruser took to Twitter with his findings, and from there the revelation went viral. Users across the globe took to the platform to share their own findings of suspected military bases in areas across the Middle East and North Africa.
“This is a clear security threat,” security analyst Tobias Schneider told the Post. “You can see a pattern of life. You can see where a person who lives on a compound runs down a street to exercise. In one of the U.S. bases at Tanf, you can see people running round in circles.”