Data tracking. The threat is real. In an age where nearly everything we do is recorded, it’s almost impossible to be truly “off the grid.”

Back in 2016, a company called PlanetRisk Inc was working on some new software to track refugees. The company was trying to use location tools in a variety of apps, such as games, weather apps, dating sites, and many others. By gathering this information from refugees they could track their movements throughout Europe and towards the U.S.

The Company Wanted to Sell the Data Tracking Software to the U.S.

Yet, what it found was that within this software was something much scarier. It realized that through the data, it could also see where U.S. troops were in the Middle East and what they were doing.

During its work, it discovered that it could follow U.S. troops through the data on their phones because of the multiple apps installed on them. This constituted a major breach in operational and personal security for these soldiers.

An adversary using this data could track U.S. troop movements on deployment, know the approximate inside dimensions of facilities by watching the routes of servicemembers running laps, and if need be target missiles and artillery on clusters of servicemembers in bunkers, command posts, and sleeping quarters.

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(Photo by Spencer Lowell/TIME)

The company’s analysts could see phones that had come from military facilities in the U.S., traveled through countries like Canada or Turkey, and were clustered at the abandoned Lafarge Cement Factory in northern Syria. At the time, U.S. special operations and allied forces used the factory as a staging area.

This Has Become a Significant Challenge for the U.S. Military

Your phone is a collection of information with mostly one purpose in mind, to sell your information to ads.

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Google is a massive collector of information. Many other companies also sell your information in colossal bulks. And this information could be available and very valuable to America’s adversaries.

While the U.S. government has built robust networks to track and find terrorists, U.S. soldiers often leave their information wide open for adversaries.

Nevertheless, by following a few simple steps, you can easily protect yourself.

AEDC Test and Communications Branch provides secure data, communications capabilities
A telephone technician connects a phone line using a punch-down block on the main distribution frame in the Telephone Switchroom at Arnold Air Force Base. (Photo by Jill Pickett/U.S. Air Force)

Many teams or units, while deployed, buy en masse local phones and use the internet to talk to loved ones, check-in on Facebook, or tweet about their new local best friend.

When I was in Africa, our team house had local Orange network internet and bought local phones.

Nevertheless, consider Orange. It is a French-owned company and while it may be privately owned, it wouldn’t be surprising if the French government was collecting all that information.

Although the French may have no intention of collecting information on U.S. soldiers, it’s still up there for grabs.

You absolutely shouldn’t be checking your bank information or anything personal on these local networks. It’s not your internet, and you have no idea who is behind the screen tracking your data.

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Be Sure to Use Your Green Government Computers for Everything Personal

Check and see which apps on your phones are using location services. Do the real estate and weather apps need to know exactly where you are at all times? You can set many apps to “while using the app” for location services.

Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook are social media monsters. They all love to know where you are. Snapchat has gotten my daughter in trouble several times because she wasn’t where she said she was.

Many military computers use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) – a service that protects your internet connection and privacy online. VPN creates an encrypted tunnel for your data, protects your online identity by hiding your IP address, and allows you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots safely.

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A basic VPN diagram. (Secjuice)

Using a VPN is something every soldier should be doing outside the U.S., to not only protect themselves but also those around them.