A map of fitness tracker data may have just compromised top secret US military bases around the world

 

  • An interactive heatmap from Strava appears to have exposed sensitive sites.
  • Hackers or state actors could use the information to find bases.
  • Chinese, Taiwanese, and other nations' bases were exposed too, but as the US has the biggest global presence, it stands the most to lose.


Over the weekend a company called Strava, a social network for athletes, updated an online heatmap which mapped out the routes of 1 billion workouts in 2017.

But in doing so, it seems to have expose secret U.S. military in Turkey, Syria, and Yemen.

Strava drew on data from fitness trackers, like fitbits or smartphones, to track their workouts. But fitness tracker users skew western, young, and active. In countries like Niger, the heatmap highlights the activity of U.S. soldiers on military bases keeping fit.

The result is potentially damning for the U.S. military's operational security.

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23 examples of amazing camouflage on military planes

A Russian SU-27 Flanker aircraft banks away with an RAF Typhoon in the background. RAF Typhoons were scrambled on June 14, 2014, to intercept multiple Russian aircraft as part of NATO's ongoing mission to police Baltic airspace.

Photo courtesy: RAF/Ministry of Defense/Crown Copyright

A Russian Su-35 Super Flanker soars through the clouds.

Photo courtesy: Aleksander Markin/www.flickr.com

Two RF-4Es of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force patrol above Japan.

Photo courtesy: Japan Air Self-Defense Force/Wikimedia

Israeli F-16s fly low and fast inside the Ramon Crater in the Negev Desert in Israel.

Photo courtesy: Israeli Defense Force

An Israeli air force F-15I maneuvers away after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker over Nevada's test and training ranges.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Kevin Gruenwald

A Dutch F-16 takes off.

Photo courtesy: Reuters

Two Israeli air force F-15s fly in Nevada's Red Flag aerial-training operation in 2004.

Photo courtesy: TSGT KEVIN J. GRUENWALD, USAF via Commons

An Iranian Su-24 waits to take off from Mehrabad International Airport for a training flight.

Photo courtesy: Shahram Sharifi

A Russian Su-30 glides through the air during a test flight.

Photo courtesy: Aleksander Markin

Russia's new T-50 prototype tests its engines in flight.

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

An Indian air force SU-30K Flanker lands following a simulated combat mission with US Air Force F-15 Eagles deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Keith Brown

An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies with naval camouflage.

Photo courtesy: Todd Miller

An F/A-18, belonging to the VFA-122 "Flying Eagles" based out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, and flown by the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), blends seamlessly into the desert background.

Photo courtesy: Todd Miller

A US Navy F/A-18C Hornets of the Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-125 "Rough Raiders" flies in formation flight out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, with an unusual tiger-stripe camouflage.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation

An attack squadron VA-72 Blue Hawks Vought A-7E Corsair II aircraft of the commander, Carrier Air Wing, flies homeward after a deployment in the Persian Gulf area during Operation Desert Storm.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Navy

A formation of F-4 Phantom II fighter aircraft display their unique camos in formation during a heritage-flight demonstration.

Photo courtesy: USAF - MSgt Michael Ammons

OV-10s from the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron show off their woodland camouflage at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

Photo courtesy: USAF Official Photo

A flight of Aggressor F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons with various camouflage schemes fly in formation over the Nevada Test and Training Range on June 5, 2008.

Photo courtesy: USAF

A Douglas A-1E Skyraider warbird, painted as "AF 132-683" of the South Vietnamese air force, in 2008.

Photo courtesy: Fly-by-Owen via Wikimedia Commons

US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron 513 at Yuma Marine Corps air base, in Arizona, fly in formation during Operation Desert Shield.

Photo courtesy: SSgt Scott Stewart, USAF

A B-52 Stratofortress from the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron leads a formation of Japanese Air Self-Defense Force F-2s from the 6th Squadron, US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 18th Aggressor Squadron, and a US Navy EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 136 over Guam on February 10, 2009.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

An F-15C-27-MC Eagle with naval camouflage from the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force

An F-16 Fighting Falcon, showing aggressor paint scheme, disconnects from a KC-10 Extender after being refueled during a Red Flag-Alaska exercise on April 22 and is ready to reengage friendly forces.

Photo courtesy: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Jonathan Snyder

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Previously covert bases may have been exposed. More importantly, the useful parts of the base have been highlighted. The heatmap shows that military personnel commonly jog around the perimeter of bases, thereby printing an outline on the heatmap.

Additionally, some may have left the trackers on while going about normal business. Important supply routes and key daily routines have likely been picked up by the heatmap.

"In Syria, known coalition (ie U.S.) bases light up the night," wrote military writer and analyst Tobias Schneider.

"Some light markers over known Russian positions, no notable colouring for Iranian bases … A lot of people are going to have to sit through lectures come Monday morning."

But the most dangerous element of the heatmap isn't the aggregated lines, it's the potential to determine which individual drew which line. Anyone who gains access to Strava's data, legally or otherwise, can then track that soldier's movement, Jeffrey Lewis points out at the Daily Beast

A user who visits one secret military base, say a missile base, and then visits another location, may indicate that there's another, previously secure, site of interest.

This data could inform both state and non-state actors as to where to attack in the case of war.

The U.S. is not alone in being exposed — Chinese joggers in the South China Sea contributed data to the Strava map, as did workers on Taiwan's secret missile bases. But the U.S.'s larger presence around the globe means it had more to lose.

After the map came out, internet users in short order identified some of the most sensitive U.S. military sites around the world.

Here Lewis believes a "highly secure office," possibly the director of national intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center have been exposed.

Here he seems to think US troops are running around the US's nuclear weapons in Turkey.

Here a Twitter user cross-referencing other open-source analysis seems to think he's spotted a CIA "black site," or somewhere that unacknowledged covert work is taking place, in Djibouti.

But interestingly enough, the actual Pentagon, the headquarters of the Department of Defense, the biggest office building in the world, and the most well-known U.S. military command center in the world, is dark.

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