Staying fit should be an integral part of life, especially inside the military. That is why the government promoted the use of Strava app and similar fitness apps. Because it kept their personnel fit and created good spirited competition. However, when sensitive information including the location of military facilities in Africa and Yemen became public knowledge, that is when the pentagon had to step in and try to control the situation. Let’s review what exactly Strava is how it works and why it has received so much attention lately.
What is Strava and how it works
Comparing Strava to Facebook would be a good way of explaining how it works. It is a fitness app and website that lets users time and track their fitness routine using a map. Then they could upload it and share it with other people that have this app. User’s movements are tracked via satellite navigation. The Strava app has been around since 2009 and their Global heat maps have also been around for some time. However, in November of last year Strava released a “big update” and bragged that it had recorded more than 1 billion activities and 3 billion GPS points from the raw data the app gathers.
Their excitement was short lived. Nathan Ruser, a 20 year old Australian student noticed, that this heat map could be used to gather information of American military outposts. Even worse, the movement of their soldiers.
How this happened and how serious this is
The easiest way to understand this is by remembering that the way apps are set up nowadays. By default ,apps continue to run in the background unless you specifically deny them that access. Because Strava uses satellite navigation the information that is openly available poses a real threat.
The information is very sensitive like outlines of not only known military bases but also Forward operating bases we didn’t even know existed especially in countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Not only that but also a US drone base under construction in Agadez Niger, different Military facilities in Djibouti and Mauritania in Africa. The reason these are easier to detect is because of the heat map. In a heavily congested place like the US, all we see is one big red blob, but in remote places where the use of these types of devices is very rare, they stick out like a sore thumb. Because for miles and miles around them everything else is black.
What the government plans to do about it
As expected the pentagon did not reveal whether any sensitive information such as locations of secret bases had been revealed. Strava is pretty much washing their hands by stating that the owners of this app are the ones responsible for the information they wish to share. Although that is a good point, the fact that so much sensitive information can be accessed by anyone is something that has to be looked at. Strava technically didn’t do anything wrong so the heat map is still up and running. Even if it’s not illegal, it is a security breach, and should be dealt with somehow. For now, the most important thing is for the military personnel to get educated on situational awareness, and how some seemingly innocent activity can jeopardize the integrity of an operation or a unit.