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Strava fitness tracking map reveals military bases, movements in war zones

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An interactive online map can show the locations and activities of fitness watch users, raising security concerns about soldiers and other personnel at U.S. military bases in sensitive areas.

The Global Heat Map, published by the GPS tracking company Strava, uses satellite information to map the locations and movements of subscribers to the company’s fitness service over a two-year period, by illuminating areas of activity, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Strava says it has 27 million users around the world, including people who own widely available fitness devices, as well as people who directly subscribe to its mobile app. The map is not live, but shows a pattern of accumulated activity between 2015 and September 2017.

The map shows a great deal of activity in the U.S. and Europe. But in war zones and deserts in countries such as Iraq and Syria, the heat map becomes almost entirely dark — except for scattered evidence of activity.

A closer look at those areas brings into focus the locations and outlines of well-known U.S. military bases, as well as other lesser-known and potentially sensitive sites — possibly because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around.

The Global Heat Map was posted online in November 2017, but the information it contains was only publicized recently.

The data could provide information to someone who wants to attack or ambush troops, the Post reported.

Military officials are looking into the situation to determine how to respond.

“DoD takes matters like these very seriously and is reviewing the situation to determine if any additional training or guidance is required, and if any additional policy must be developed to ensure the continued safety of DoD personnel at home and abroad,” Maj. Audricia Harris, a Defense Department spokeswoman, told The Associated Press.

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How the U.S. is using terrorists’ smartphones and laptops to defeat them

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USA TODAY — Smartphones helped terror organizations grow and communicate. Now the devices are contributing to their downfall.

In a nondescript, highly secured building in this Washington suburb, a group of U.S. government technicians and linguists are downloading massive amounts of data from phones, hard drives, CDs and other devices, providing a huge boost to the U.S. intelligence community as it hunts terrorists.

Many of the devices have been captured from battlefields in Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State has lost virtually all the territory it captured in 2014.
“This is the future,” Kolleen Yacoub, director of the National Media Exploitation Center, told USA TODAY in a rare interview at the center’s headquarters.

It was the first time the center, which also supports law enforcement and other agencies, has allowed a journalist into the facility, providing insight into a critical but little known part of the intelligence community.

The center grew from a handful of employees when it was established in 2003 to about 700 today, including offices overseas. It has about 100 linguists.

“The ability to exploit captured electronic hardware is a great capability that we have adopted and expanded and improved tremendously over the past 15 years,” said Jim Howcroft, a retired Marine intelligence officer and director of the terrorism program at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.

The center in Maryland, managed by the Defense Intelligence Agency, reviews paper documents as well as electronic items.

But it is the proliferation of laptops and cellphones that has fueled the growth in this type of intelligence gathering.

Smartphones hold massive amounts of information critical to intelligence analysts, including photos, telephone numbers, GPS data and Internet searches.

Users generally assume the device won’t be compromised and don’t take precautions to protect the data, Yacoub said.

“What they’re saving on their devices is ground truth,” Yacoub said. “We tend to treat our digital devices, our mobile devices … as personal items and we don’t lie to them.”

“The adversaries don’t lie to them either,” she said.

The data include videos and photos that help identify militants and their leaders.

Even when a device is damaged or information is deleted, the center’s technicians recover 60% to 80% of the data. “Deleted does not mean lost” is one of the center’s mottoes.

The amount of data coming into the center has skyrocketed in the past two years, Yacoub said, mainly because of the campaign against the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The data analysis has been particularly helpful in giving intelligence analysts an unprecedented look at how the radical group operated in Iraq and Syria because of the ubiquity of smartphones and the meticulous way ISIS kept records in areas it controlled.

The data include tens of thousands of personnel records on foreign fighters and their families with dates of birth, aliases, phone numbers, jobs and other valuable intelligence.

“They have their own central government in a sense,” Yacoub said.

ISIS had departments that developed drone technology, chemical weapons, finance and propaganda operations. It also kept detailed records on the bureaucracy it created to provide services in areas it controlled.

Some of the terror leaders have been captured fleeing the battlefield with reams of information in the hopes that they can use it to keep the group active or to regroup after the loss of territory.

“If you’re committed to sustaining this organization and you’re going to take your show on the road … then you’re taking everything you can with you,” Marine Brig. Gen. James Glynn, deputy commanding general of the Special Operations Joint Task Force, said in an interview from Baghdad.

The intelligence is helping analysts map out how the Islamic State may try to evolve.

“If you don’t have a clear understanding of how ISIS is operating today, I don’t think you can really understand where they are going to next,” said Seth Jones, director of the Transnational Threat Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They are not going to disappear.”

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My Australia: From washing dishes to Qantas executive

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‘My Australia’ is a special SBS News series exploring cultural heritage and identity, and asking what it means to be Australian in 2018.

Jamila Gordon is a long way from the small village where she was born. She fled Somalia’s civil war and came alone to Australia as a young refugee. She couldn’t speak a word of English.

But that didn’t stop her from becoming a top tech executive for companies including Qantas.

“The village (where I was born) was very desolate, dusty, we had water in the wells,” Ms Gordon told SBS News.

“My mother was pregnant every year, or she had a baby … In the end, she had 16 children.”

At 18 Jamila was separated from her family and sent to Kenya.

Her family moved to Mogadishu to avoid a drought. But just before the civil war broke out they were separated. Ms Gordon was sent to live with distant relatives in Kenya.

“Through my friends in Kenya, I met an Australian backpacker. It was his second day in Kenya and we became friends and he sponsored me to Australia,” she said.

At 18 years old, Jamila found herself in Sydney alone and unable to speak the language.

She quickly learned English at TAFE and got a job washing dishes, earning five dollars an hour. She went to university in Melbourne to study accounting, before taking an IT elective and falling in love with it.

She says IT had some surprising similarities to her first school in Somalia.

“The process I used to memorise the Koran in the village where I was born, was exactly the same as the process of software programming that I used when I was at Latrobe University,” Ms Gordon said.

Jamila arrived in Sydney a young refugee with no English.
Supplied

After university she got a job as a software programmer and climbed her way up the ladder, working in Europe for major companies including IBM. She later returned to Australia to become chief information officer at Qantas.

She is currently based in Sydney and works with smaller tech start-ups, helping them get off the ground.

Rod Bishop CEO of Jayride, a start-up marketplace for transport hire, says working with Ms Gordon has been a perfect fit.

“There’s really not a lot of growth-focused technology people operating at an extremely high level in Australia. So it was an absolute pleasure and we saw eye to eye straight away,” Mr Bishop said.

Jamila Gordon today.
SBS News

Former professional colleague David Thodey, who is the chairman of the board at CSRIO, says Jamila brings a unique approach to her work.

“She’s always had a vision for what she wanted to do, but a great determination and incredible will and drive to get the job done.”

 

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Crowdfarming is being used to bring Somalia’s livestock market into the digital economy

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Somalia is a global leader in the export of goats and sheep, and livestock trade generates about 40% of the country’s gross domestic product.

Yet almost every other year, recurring droughts and water scarcity take a toll on local pastoralists’ ability to keep their animals live and healthy. In 2017 alone, livestock loss has ranged from 20%-40% in the southern regions and 40%-60% in the north, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. This threatens the livelihood of the animal farmers and hinders their ability to regularly trade in markets.

But a Sweden-based startup wants to change this by creating a tech-powered livestock market that is open all year round. The goal of Ari.Farm (“Ari” means “goat” in Somali) is to get investors to purchase livestock from locals, injecting much-needed cash into the market and potentially making a profit.

Once a purchase is made, an investor is able to name his animals, follow their progress online, and even gift or donate them. Ari.Farm takes care of the animals in two farms, one located outside Galkayo town in south-central Somalia and the other outside the capital Mogadishu. As the number of animals one owns grow from breeding, they can decide to sell them at the local market price. That amount could then be used to re-invest in more livestock or be withdrawn by the financier.
Ari.Farm founder Mohamed Jimale, a former nomad himself, says since beginning operations in 2016, people from 26 countries across the world have bought almost 1,000 goats, sheep, and camels through Ari.Farm. “The Somali livestock owners are not poor, they have wealth,” Jimale told Quartz. But if they are to survive “they need to find a market for their livestock.”

Across Africa, Ari.Farm is hardly the only start-up committed to crowdfarming as an avenue for investment, tackling unemployment, increasing social impact, and unlocking multi-million-dollar markets. Livestock Wealth in South Africa, Mifugo Trade in Kenya, and AniTrack in Ghana are but some of the applications bringing livestock trade into the digital economy. In Nigeria, agro-tech start-ups like FarmCrowdy and ThriveAgric have also enabled middle-class Nigerians to fund existing farms for between $200 and $750 for a harvest cycle.

Ari.Farm has now gone a step further and introduced cryptocurrencies as a payment method. Jimale says this was necessitated because customers and financial institutions kept asking about the risks of investing in Somalia. For decades, Somalia has had a freewheeling economy with the majority of the currency in circulation considered fake. But as the price gain for Bitcoin surges past $11,000 and also gains ground in the developing world, Jimale says it allows them to attract more customers and sidestep some of the conventional central banking requirements.

So far, about 10% of Ari.Farm’s transactions are traded through bitcoin, and the company hopes to integrate Blockchain technology for a trading platform in the future. Part of that might come as Ari.Farm looks to close seed funding of up to 2 million Swedish Krona ($237,000) in the coming months.

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