Strava (a fitbit competitor health bracelet tracking device) released “heat maps” of their data-sets. I suspect that is going to change fairly quickly, but the information security world has been having a ton of fun with it.
Information security practitioners are, among other things, supposed to think about what can happen if you combine data to produce side-effects (sometimes called “side-channels”) – the recent Meltdown [wik] and Spectre bugs are another example of side-effects revealing more information than they should. Strava’s data-set is keyed to GPS coordinates, which means you can do things like: (Nathan Ruser is an analyst who tracks conflict zones using 3rd party intelligence [ruser])
From a military standpoint, it’s particularly useful because not only does it show your target’s track, it shows the frequency. If you were going to plant an IED to reap some Turkish troops, where would you plant it? Where the heat-map is yellow, of course. [stderr]
We should probably expect a great deal of new activity in terms of de-activating google map-zones and Strava will probably pull down their service for other map regions. Ultimately, though, this is a fruitless effort because every cell phone, iPhone, and toy drone has got GPS in it, and reports coordinates back (constantly) to some server somewhere. Next up, we’ll probably have a big scare in which the Russian intelligence services embed GPS tracking into a fun smart-phone app, so they can get their own GPS tracking stack without having to worry about Strava providing it.
Waze and Apple already do this in their mapping apps: if they see large numbers of iPhones on a particular stretch of road that normally flows at 50-70mph, and the phones are not moving minute over minute, it infers that there is a traffic slow-down and starts re-routing people. Thus, “big data” giveth and “big data” taketh away.
My old buddy Alec Muffett apparently reads this blog, because he took the map coordinates I posted for the CIA black sites in Djibouti and checked them in the Strava database. [stderr]
Dino Brugioni is a name most of you will not have heard. For me, he kept cropping up in very unusual places: in books about the CORONA program, doing analysis of grain-structure in the print of Lee Harvey Oswald holding the newspaper and the rifle, during the Cuba Missile Crisis, etc. [wikipedia]
It turned out that Brugioni was one of the founders of a very secretive agency known as NPIC (National Photo Interpretation Center) – NPIC was created, like NRO, to handle the increased amount of technical intelligence (NSA still owns comms intelligence) when the U2 and CORONA program began to generate huge amounts of data. There was a certain understandable fear that if CIA was allowed to be the primary collector of all the data, nobody else would ever get to look at it and CIA would become like a camera-driven version of the NSA, only with a license to kill.
Anyhow, Brugioni writes in his excellent book Photo Fakery [amzn] about how they were able to determine which Soviet missile platforms in Siberia had working missiles: they were the guarded ones, and guards make tracks in the snow. He used a similar technique to analyze Soviet missile batteries in Cuba during the missile crisis – you can see who is going where and how often by the tracks in the dirt.
As David Byrne would say: “same as it ever was.”
In 1979 Dino Brugioni attempted to answer the question of whether allied photoreconnaissance was able to determine the purpose of the nazi death-camps. If you recall, one of the fig-leaves the allies hid behind was “nobody knew” so “nobody did anything.” Elie Wiesel used to ask what would have happened if there had been some attempt to parachute soldiers in to stabilize the camps, or to disrupt the trans-shipping of jews. Well, Brugioni’s analysis is pretty chilling, but interesting, if you want to get an idea of how this sort of thing is done. [brug]
Spook-hunters all over the internets are having a field day with this data-set. Good! Secrecy is usually used to defeat oversight.
Update: What I named as a CIA black site in Djibouti is apparently an Italian base. It’s fascinating to see the kind of ground-based identification you can do: [twit]