Secure Summits

In the heart of the French Alps, where innovation, adrenaline, and nature converge, I witness alpinists gearing up for their mountain adventures every weekend. Ropes, mountain bikes, and mountain running shoes dominate the scene, while skis and snowboards take over during winter. As a technology enthusiast, I am always intrigued by the gadgets people bring along, ranging from performance trackers to emergency beacons. My focus turned to the workings of beacons in the mountains, connecting with satellites and radio repeaters. The CEO of one of my clients participates in an annual multi-day cross mountain running event in the Alps, where his progress can be tracked online, stage by stage.

Technology has made remarkable strides in mountain sports, comparable to its presence in other activities like motor racing and global sailing challenges. In the alpine region, however, mountain sports have embraced a high-tech profile over the past decade. From ski gear equipped with GPS to wearable tech monitoring vital signs, technology has seamlessly integrated into the very fabric of mountain sports. But with this convergence of outdoor pursuits and technology, an often-overlooked partner emerges: cybersecurity threats.

Whether it’s a digital avalanche beacon or a sophisticated mountaineering watch, every connected device presents a potential entry point for cyber mischief. While these devices offer invaluable safety features for thrill-seekers, they also harbor vulnerabilities if not adequately secured. Historically, product security concerns revolved around cloud connectivity, where device data is stored for later analysis.

GPS spoofing represents another tangible threat, albeit exceedingly rare and requiring specialized radio equipment. Given sufficient motivation, hackers can manipulate the GPS signals received by these devices, leading to the display of incorrect information. Imagine the peril faced by an alpinist or backcountry skier whose compromised device guides them astray, far from their planned route and into unfamiliar and potentially treacherous terrain.

The proliferation of health monitoring wearables, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, has introduced a significant risk. A successful cyber attack could tamper with or misuse the user’s health data, providing erroneous information that could result in misguided decisions on the mountain. Moreover, it could lead to breaches of privacy as location and health data are streamed back to the internet while scaling new heights.

Two recent incidents shed light on these concerns:

  1. Strava Heat Map Incident: Strava, a popular fitness tracking app among runners and cyclists, released a “Global Heat Map” that visualized the movements of its users worldwide. Intended to celebrate the global community of athletes, the heat map inadvertently exposed potentially sensitive information. Based on anonymized data from millions of Strava users, including over a billion activities, the heat map unintentionally revealed the locations and routines of military personnel on active duty. Concentrations of fitness tracking data in otherwise remote areas inadvertently exposed the locations of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan and other sensitive regions. This incident underscored the inherent risks associated with sharing and visualizing user data, even when anonymized, and highlighted a potentially severe breach of operational security.

  2. Under Armour’s MyFitnessPal Breach: Another notable incident involved MyFitnessPal, a popular health and fitness app owned by Under Armour. In 2018, Under Armour announced a breach compromising approximately 150 million user accounts. The compromised data included usernames, email addresses, and hashed passwords. Thankfully, payment card data processed separately remained unaffected. Under Armour promptly informed affected users, enforced password changes, and bolstered security measures. Nevertheless, this breach emphasized the attractiveness of large user databases to cybercriminals.

These incidents underscore the critical importance of robust cybersecurity measures, especially as technology permeates every aspect of our lives, including sports and fitness. Users must remain mindful of the information they share online and the risks associated

with data aggregation and visualization. For developers, security and privacy must be at the forefront of product design.

In response, manufacturers involved in mountain sports equipment have been diligently enhancing security protocols. Strong encryption for data transfer and storage, secure software development practices, and collaboration with ethical hackers to identify and patch vulnerabilities have become standard practices. The introduction of robust and standardized security protocols for outdoor tech is a significant advancement, akin to what HTTPS achieved for secure browsing. Equally important is an upsurge in user education. Tech enthusiasts should proactively familiarize themselves with the security aspects of their gear, including prompt software updates, privacy settings comprehension, and vigilance against suspicious activities.

When selecting technology that potentially impacts one’s life, careful consideration is paramount. Here are several steps to ensure that manufacturers take cybersecurity seriously:

  1. Product Research: Thoroughly investigate the product online, including the manufacturer’s website and reviews. Look for mentions of security features and potential security analyses conducted by reputable sources.

  2. Security Features: Manufacturers committed to cybersecurity will provide detailed information about the security measures embedded in their products. Look for features such as end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, and regular software updates.

  3. Manufacturer Reputation: Companies prioritizing cybersecurity will have a positive reputation in the industry. They will demonstrate a history of promptly addressing vulnerabilities, delivering regular software updates, and maintaining transparent communication with users regarding security matters.

  4. Transparency: The manufacturer should clearly outline the data collected, storage methods, access privileges, and usage purposes. This information is usually available in the product’s privacy policy.

  5. Security Certifications and Compliance: Check for cybersecurity certifications, such as ISO 27001, or compliance with recognized cybersecurity standards, such as the IoT Security Foundation’s Compliance Framework.

  6. Customer Support: Strong customer support is indicative of a manufacturer’s commitment to cybersecurity. Look for evidence of responsive communication, user-friendly guides on securing devices, or a dedicated cybersecurity helpdesk.

  7. Consult Experts: When in doubt, seek advice from cybersecurity experts or online communities. They can provide valuable insights into a device’s security features and the manufacturer’s reputation.

Remember that no device can offer complete security. Cybersecurity is about managing risks and making it as difficult as possible for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities. With proper diligence, you can confidently select products that prioritize your digital safety. Additionally, always have a backup plan, as technology can fail for various reasons. Consider if you can safely return back to safety if technology ceases to function.