In this technological age, the secret weapon is data. Companies, hackers and secret services have been harnessing this invisible information about people in order to gain invaluable and sensitive intel on them; all covertly, we thought, up until we found out about these latest data-slip stories through an unsuspecting means!
Earlier in the year, GPS company Strava Labs publicly revealed very sensitive data about secret US military operations through their fitness tracking tool. Embarrassingly, the same thing has happened again, albeit on a much larger scale, through Finnish-owned, activity-tracking company, Polar. The discovery was made by a Dutch newspaper, De Correspondent, who reported that the app had been publicly revealing the daily locations and movements of soldiers and government agents (including British MI6 agents, NSA agents and U.S. Secret Service officers).
Utilising the “Polar Flow” website, the newspaper - along with the help of online journalism group Bellingcat - was able to access this secret information through their online maps, which displayed public records of exercise routes. Offering up their daily patterns, all the way back to 2014, the map can tell you everything about an individual’s workout data, including heart rates, favourite routes (both at home and at a military site), times and durations.
How did they find this all out? It was a shockingly easy process, according to one journalist at Bellingcat. They simply selected a military base of interest, click on a publicised exercise to reveal the identity (picture and name) behind it and their exercise history. Unbeknown to many, as they turn on/off their trackers as they leave their homes, they actually put a big ‘X’ on the map for others to find their property.
All in all, the search found that “6,460 individuals [in military or government roles] across 69 nationalities” were compromised.
Since the publication of the article, Polar has decommissioned the activity-tracking map from online viewing. The company released a statement that stressed that the default setting of the tracking app was set to private and that these individuals, in fact, opted to share their routes publicly. However, noting that sensitive locations and data being released into the public sphere was the reason for temporarily suspending their Explore API option.
Luckily for us, our skirmishes aren’t shrouded in the security concerns of military movements! In actual fact, they can be quite insightful in exactly how much we burn off in a single airsoft game…