Monday, January 29, 2018

Spying on the Spies with Strava

The Pentagon on the Global Strava Heatmap

Over the weekend Nathan Ruser posted on Twitter an observation that the Strava Global Heatmap is a very good source for finding United States military bases around the world. Since then newspapers such as the Washington Post & The Guardian and other Twitter users have been busy posting screenshots of military bases in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, which are lit up on the Strava heatmap.

Soldiers using Fitbit, or other sports tracking apps, appear to be happy to share their locations with Strava as they patrol around US military bases. Even worse is that the Strava map can be used to find popular running routes that military personnel like to take outside of these military bases. The Strava Global Heatmap can therefore be used to discover not only what could be patrol routes inside military bases it can also be used to find out where personnel like to run or cycle outside of these same bases.


You can even use the Strava Global Heatmap to track the movements of personnel inside buildings. The screenshot at the top of this post shows the tracks of Strava users wandering around the Pentagon. It isn't just the U.S. military who haven't warned staff about using tracking devices in sensitive areas. The UK's GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters - signals intelligence) on the Strava heatmap also includes the tracks of lots of staff members wandering around the supposedly top-secret listening station.

If spying on spies appeals to your fine tuned sense of irony then you can also view the tracks of United States' spy planes. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security make daily flights over American cities in spy planes equipped with high-resolution video cameras and cell phone tracking equipment. Buzzfeed has analyzed data from Flightradar24 and identified around 200 federal aircraft. Using the Flightradar24 data Buzzfeed has also mapped some of the flights of these planes as they spy on American cities.

Spies in the Skies explores some of the reasons behind the use of the planes by the FBI and the DHS. It also includes an animated interactive map which plots the flights of the planes between mid-August to the end of December last year. On the map the FBI planes' tracks are marked in red and the DHS plane tracks are shown in blue.

If you zoom-in on the map you can see the distinctive circular flight paths of the planes, presumably as the planes monitor a single location on the ground. If you zoom-out you can get an overall picture of where in the USA the FBI & DHS planes seem to be most active. The DHS seem to be most active around towns and cities near the Mexican and Canadian borders. The FBI planes seem to regularly operate all over the USA.

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