Pentagon reviews fitness tracker use over security concerns

Last Updated Jan 29, 2018 7:06 PM EST

WASHINGTON -- U.S. service members in war zones run the risk of being discovered by the enemy every time they go for a run while wearing exercise trackers, including Fitbits. The Pentagon is now doing a broad review of the devices.

Service members working out in this digital age have unwittingly produced a map of their locations and activities worldwide -- a security breach the Pentagon did not find about until a 20-year-old Australian student discovered it.

Nathan Ruser came across a map put out by Strava, a social media network for athletes, which showed two years worth of satellite tracking data uploaded from Fitbits and other digital fitness devices.

"U.S. bases are clearly identifiable and mappable," Ruser tweeted, including sites like the American special operations base in Syria.

"It took us seconds to really gather some information that really should not be publicly available. Any child can do this," said Tobias Schneider of Global Public Policy Issues.

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U.S. service members in war zones run the risk of being discovered by the enemy every time they go for a run while wearing exercise trackers, including Fitbits.

CBS News

Schneider said the location of these and many other bases -- such as spots of light in Afghanistan -- were previously known. Commercial satellites had already exposed the layout of an American base in the horn of Africa before it lit up the Strava map, but mining the GPS data collected by Strava can reveal the pattern of activity at the base, down to the identities of individual soldiers and the routes they take.

"So we can find out not only how many soldiers are broadly stationed there but how they move, you know, how do they connect with other bases, what kind of patrols do they have around the area," Schneider said.

Social networks are a hallmark of the modern era, but Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute said a lot more than just personal information ends up on those networks.

"There's actually one trace that shows a person doing loops as he or she jogs around some nuclear weapons stored in Turkey. So while, yes, I think to some extent this the new era we live in, this is a particularly frightening example of that era," Lewis said.

The Pentagon, which once encouraged the use of Fitbits, is telling servicemen to use the privacy settings on their devices, but this breach goes far beyond the U.S. military to include intelligence officers and aid workers in dangerous locations.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.