Security concerns have been made public after a “heatmap” published by a fitness tracker app showed the routes of military personnel in bases all over the world. The “heatmap” was published by Strava and it was designed to show the routes or paths that users log as they exercise. However, this has caused a big security problem and the US military has confirmed that it is examining the issue.
Strava is a San Francisco-based app that uses the GPS in the smartphone to track user’s exercise activity. The data collected is then logged and accessed by users. Strava says that the app is designed to help people track their performance as they exercise and so far the app has about 27 million users.
So, what’s the issue? Well, the latest heatmap was released in November last year. Strava said that it wanted to present a visualization of data that shows the exercise activity of all its users all over the world. The heatmap was all based on data collected between 2015 and 2017. However, this was not an issue until now.
The controversy has been stirred up by a 20-year-old Australian student who studies international security at the Australian National University. Nathan Ruser stumbled upon the maps and made a startling discovery.
In a tweet sent on January 27, Ruser wrote that even though it was great to see Strava releasing this data, it jeopardizes the operational security of military activities since according to him the heatmap clearly shows the location of secret US bases around the world. He also said that it was very easy to put the dots together. He told BBC that making military routes public could pose a major security threat and nobody knows who else might put together this information from the heatmap.
But what does the heatmap show? It’s not really just about the location of these military bases because simple satellite maps can show pictures of the bases and where they are. Security experts’ main concern is the fact that the maps show the level of activity in each base and some of the routes often taken by military personnel on day-to-day operations.
This kind of information can be deadly if it gets into the wrong hands. The solution to this issue though is actually very simple. Strava has an option that allows users to opt out of data collection for the heatmaps. However, Strava has not said much since these revelations came to light. The company has insisted though that the data used to develop the heatmaps was anonymous and that activities that had been marked as private were not included.
The US Department of Defense, however, stated that matters like these are taken very seriously. The US military is reviewing the maps and will provide guidance if required on how to move forward. The UK’s Ministry of Defence also took the same stand saying that it will investigate the matter further.