In a world with technological inventions seemingly every month, U.S. troops and special operators are facing a whole different set of problems that no one could have imagined a few years ago.

In the past few years, a series of flaps involving U.S. and Coalition special operations forces and popular fitness applications, such as Strava or the Apple Watch, have jeopardized operational and personal security.

These flaps offer near-peer competitors, such as China and Russia, and even terrorist groups a glimpse behind the shadowy world of special operations and intelligence that can be used against the commandos.

In 2018, reports revealed that the popular fitness tracker Strava could be manipulated to show the positions, bases, and even patrol routes of U.S. troops in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries.

Digital or electronic tracking doesn’t only affect the U.S. special operations community. In 2020, journalists and open-source information researchers were able to manipulate Strava to track down British Special Air Service (SAS) operators in Syria and Somalia.

The manipulation of data didn’t end there. The journalists and researchers were able also to track the SAS operators’ fitness activities — and thus their pattern of life — in the U.K. by simply tracking the accounts they correctly surmised were associated with SAS operators.

“I Can See You”

Djibouti Strava heat map
A Strava heat map of southeastern Djibouti, home to U.S. Navy base Camp Lemonnier and several other countries’ military bases. (Strava)

In a recent article, West Point’s Modern War Institute expertly covered the modern dangers of electronic and digital signatures. The article discusses how SEAL Team 6’s recent successful hostage-rescue operation in Niger was tracked by an open-source aviation site nearly in real-time.

Everyone, including China and Russia, now knows what aircraft the task force used, how the SEALs infiltrated and exfiltrated the target, and other relevant details about the capabilities of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).