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Are fitness applications the new threat to military officers and Pentagon officials?

A recent memo from Deputy Defense Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, states the dangers of military soldiers wearing fitness watches or using any kind of devices, applications, and services with geolocation capabilities.

According to a ban, disallowing soldiers and officers the use of all tracking devices and apps on and off mission, was first announced after a months-long investigation following a cybersecurity incident caused by location-tracking fitness app ‘Strava’. The app published a global heat map which accidentally revealed almost exact locations of United States military bases.

Concerning the recent prohibition, Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters “This is a necessary step to ensure the security of our personnel.”

The Pentagon memo publicized, states the many significant risks of the rapidly evolving market of devices, applications and services with geolocation functions: these geolocation capabilities can expose more than just the exact locations of military operation; these apps and devices have the potential to expose personal information, military routines and numbers of Department personnel. “We don’t want to give the enemy any unfair advantage,”  states Army Col.

The Pentagon’s response also comes after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress calling for “enhanced assessments and guidance … to address security risks in DoD” posed by Internet of Things devices. They are taking the issue of soldiers and other Pentagon staff using of location-based apps very seriously as this may well create severe security consequences and increase the risk to the joint forces and to the mission.

The ban prohibits specifically the use of geolocation features while in locations designated as operational areas. This clarification is especially important due to the fact that US operational areas are quite broad and include not only war zones but also parts of Europe and Africa.

The Strava incident offered a necessary wakeup call for Pentagon officials, as it has embodied the dangers concealed in the overwhelming speed of technological developments. Furthermore, it brought up the question whether the military forces are handling the increased need for cybersecurity regulations in a proper manner or whether they are falling behind.

Although the Pentagon has been experimenting for years to find a way to cope with the growing usage of smartphones in tactical situations, they have yet to find the right way to incorporate the usage of them. Nowadays, active duty soldiers are forbidden to carry personal devices on missions and the only way for them to communicate is through encrypted radios with systems that date approximately at WWII.

It seems that the need for making on-mission communication efficient by utilizing the features of smart devices is now, more than ever, at top priority.