Fitness tracking app reveals details of military bases; Singapore's security at risk?

Experts advise to adapt to the technology, not regulate it


Recently, reports emerged that fitness tracking apps, such as Strava, are a threat to national security as they reveal locations and movements related to the military of countries worldwide. Now, it has been found that the threat is very much real in Singapore as well. Security experts said on Tuesday, January 30, that the only way to tackle the security threat is to adapt to the technology, not regulate it.

Strava launched their global visual heat map in November 2017 to display exercise routes. However, the app also shows military personnel running or exercising with their smartphones or fitness trackers, such as Fitbit.

This will expose the location, layout and roads in secret military bases all around the world. It is also capable of revealing the identities of the personnel and their activities within military camps.

Many Singaporeans have already realized the impact of the app and shared pictures on social media of the heatmap in military locations. The heatmaps of the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) headquarters at Gombak Base and training centers at Pulau Tekong and Paya Lebar Air Base have been seen via the app, reported Channel NewsAsia.

It has been pointed out that although Google Maps blurs out the sensitive data from military bases, a lot of information can still be obtained through the smartwatches and health trackers that armymen use.

Such a security breach can be a serious threat to the nation as extremists might be able to gain information about military bases and army camp layouts. This may lead to planned attacks and physical breach of security at sensitive places.

However, experts are not too concerned about the implications of these apps as they believe that the technology is not enough to provide information for an attack.

"Does it tell you what kind of sensitive military equipment and technology exists inside the camps? No. Even if you know what's inside, the question is can you get to it," security and military expert Graham Ong-Webb, who is a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) told Channel NewsAsia.

"We have a layered security approach to help mitigate the risk of perpetration, attacks, compromise, breaches and so on - and it's serving us well," he added.

Ong-Webb also added that banning such devices from the military will be a regressive move and should not be encouraged in the modern world. Instead, a better approach would be to ask Strava to block out certain locations in the city-state.

After the security breach was revealed, Strava has given a statement saying that the heatmap excludes "activities marked as private and user-defined privacy zones." CEO James Quarles also stated that they will review privacy settings and ensure that sensitive information is not leaked to troublemakers.