Space Force will rely on wearable fitness trackers by 2023, raising security and privacy concerns

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After waiting two years, Space Force Guardians received an official message from military leadership this week that the new branch of service will scrap the annual fitness test and roll out a new plan that relies on wearable fitness trackers by 2023.

The branch has already begun beta testing its plan to “utilize wearable technology and software solution combined with a fitness/workout regiment and preventative health practices,” according to the memo posted Wednesday.

But the reliance on personal fitness trackers has raised concerns among military security experts, particularly after recent incidents in which fitness tracker data shared on social media revealed the location of military bases and patrol routes.

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While the memo released this week offered few details about what the program will look like, Space Force leadership has publicly stated that the move to wearable fitness trackers will allow the service to regularly monitor the health of Guardians instead. to rely on an annual physical assessment.

It comes amid a recent shift to many services to break away from a single test, in which scoring can often mean the difference between career advancement and being kicked out of the force.

But Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the New America think tank and an expert in cybersecurity and cyber warfare, told Military.com that the addition of new hardware and the sharing of personal data with the wearable program could be cause for concern.

“Obviously, any technology can be hacked, but one would hope and expect that securing systems and data is already built into the plan,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting to see the policies they’re going to expand on when you wear it and where you take it.”

Lynn Kirby, spokeswoman for Space Force, did not comment on the privacy concerns, but released a statement saying the program development process is still ongoing.

“We are looking for more scientifically proven ways to do this and will leverage wearable technologies and tools,” Kirby said in an emailed statement. “We are still fine-tuning some aspects of the program and expect to transition next year.”

The Department of Defense has had to struggle in the past with wearable fitness trackers and the data they can reveal.

In 2018, the Pentagon had to issue a memo advising service members in deployed areas and high-level bases to leave their fitness trackers at home lest they reveal compromising location data to adversaries.

The change in policy came after social media posts showed service members using Strava, a popular running and cycling app, accidentally provided maps outlining military bases and even patrol routes.

To balance these safety concerns and make the holistic health program a reality for 6,800 Guardians and 6,700 civilian employees, Space Force contracted with FitRankings, a digital health and wellness platform based in Austin, Aus. Texas.

The company launched in 2015 and has since partnered with major organizations such as Under Armour, USA Cycling and Texas grocery chain HEB to inspire their employees to stay active.

Patrick Hitchins, CEO and founder of FitRankings, told Military.com in an interview that the Strava incident was an example of service members choosing to share their personal data online without realizing the repercussions.

He said that by choosing to join the Space Force and be part of its fitness program, Guardians will have to take personal responsibility for how they keep their data safe.

But as his company began developing and testing the service, Hitchins said FitRankings had “intensely improved our security” and added that the company would limit the data added to the system.

“Actually, we’re not going to pull GPS data from users,” Hitchins told Military.com. “We will extract the minimum data necessary to accomplish the mission.”

Hitchins showed Military.com some of the fitness challenges the company has developed that would ideally inspire Guardians to stay active. One is said to target Space Force Delta 1 unit service members from Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc, California.

The challenge would be to get all of the Guardians in that unit to do a cardio activity equivalent to walking the distance from their base to Space Force Base Los Angeles, nearly 200 miles.

“We’re trying to build a culture around that data,” Hitchins said. “It’s really not enough to suck data from a portable device.”

It’s unclear under the new holistic health program whether Guardians who don’t already own fitness apparel would be reimbursed or provided with one.

While the Guardians await beta testing and rollout of the program, they will be required to take an Air Force physical fitness test in 2022 if they haven’t already.

Service members who have transferred from other branches of the military can rely on a test already taken by the Marine Corps, Navy, or Army.

Space Force clarified that any physical fitness assessments conducted this year “will not be used to determine eligibility for retention or promotion; nor will it be used as a basis for discipline of administrative action.” “, reads the memo.

While the wearable fitness device policy is being tested and finalized, Singer said it would be interesting to see the fine line Guardians will have to walk between wearing the devices frequently to actively measure fitness, but also by ensuring that you are not exposed to security risks.

“You can hope people are sensitive to that, but you have to know that people are wrong,” he said. “In cybersecurity, you assume breaches can happen and you assume failure. You don’t assume it’s going to be a pristine network that no one will ever enter.”

— Thomas Novelly can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Space Force physical training will include wearable fitness trackers

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