A fitness app that posts a map of its users’ activity has unwittingly revealed the locations and habits of military bases and personnel, including those of American forces in Iraq and Syria, security analysts say.
The app, Strava, which calls itself “the social network for athletes,” allows users to time and map their workouts and to post them online for friends to see, and it can track their movements at other times. The app is especially popular with young people who are serious about fitness, which describes many service members.
Since November, the company has published a global “heat map” showing the movements of people who have made their posts public. In the last few days, security analysts have started to take note of that data, and some have argued that the map represents a security breach.
Strava “is sitting on a ton of data that most intelligence entities would literally kill to acquire,” Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., warned on Twitter.
Some analysts have taken to social media to warn that individual users can easily be tracked, particularly when their Strava data is cross-referenced with other social media use, potentially putting individual members of the military at risk, even when they are not in war zones.
The outlines of known military bases around the world are clearly visible on the map, especially in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, where few locals own exercise tracking devices. In those places, the heat signatures on American bases are set against vast dark spaces. Tobias Schneider, a security analyst, wrote on Twitter that “known Coalition (i.e. US) bases light up the night.”
In Afghanistan, for instance, two of the largest coalition bases in the country — Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul; and Kandahar Airfield, in southern Afghanistan — can easily be picked out. The same is true for smaller bases around the country whose existence has long been public.
But there also appear to be other airstrips and base-like shapes in places where neither the American-led military forces nor the Central Intelligence Agency are known to have personnel stations.