A 20-year-old Canberra student says he hasn’t been contacted by fitness tracker Strava or any military or intelligence agencies since he revealed over the weekend that the app’s publicly available map showed US military bases in the Middle East.
Nathan Ruser, who is about to start his third year studying international security with a double major in Middle Eastern studies at n National University, tweeted on Sunday that data from Strava “looks very pretty, but not amazing for Op-Sec. US bases are clearly identifiable and mappable”.
Nathan Ruser, an ANU student, sent shocks through the international military industry by revealing that data from a fitness app shows the location of US military bases. Photo: Supplied
The Strava app tracks users’ running or cycling habits, including collecting GPS data showing where users have been active. Last year it released an updated “heatmap,” which shows 3 trillion points of latitude and longitude, and, inadvertently, activities of military personnel across the world.
The discovery has sent shockwaves through the international military and intelligence communities by revealing that data from a fitness app shows the location of US military bases. The international reaction is not what Ruser expected.
“I’m surprised at how much mainstream attention the map has gotten. I expected it to languish in wonk circles and open source circles until the US government quietly fixed the problem, but instead it seems to have blown up a lot more than I would have thought,” Mr Ruser said. He doesn’t expect to be contacted by any military agencies.
“I think that’s generally how they roll,” he said.
It was a combination of an interest in the Syrian conflict and an aptitude for learning through maps that led to the discovery of the military bases on the Strava map.
“If I ever see a pretty map I generally go to Syria to see how Syria looks in the map, and the second you look at Syria the military bases just light up,” Mr Ruser said.
“Having sort of any background knowledge in where those bases are you can just look at the map and think ‘these are all military bases, crap’.”
Mr Ruser doesn’t regret tweeting about the information shown by the map, but is concerned that other internet users have revealed more information than he intended.
The map shows activity from 2015 until September last year and has highlighted vulnerabilities as it shows known US military zones in the Middle East, and since Ruser tweeted about the map, journalists and other analysts have found activity around suspected US special operations.
Mr Ruser says he hopes the discovery will lead to better practices by the US military and others.
“Hopefully it’s a learning experience for the different military communities and they can toe that line between convenience and security,” he said.
For Mr Ruser himself, he will go back to university as normal in a few weeks, and while his plans for his future career are vague, he says he would be interested in working in the n intelligence community.