5 RIFLES soldiers on phone

How Do The British Armed Forces Use Smartphones Safely?

As US soldiers on deployment have been banned from using geo-location software, here are the precautions the UK is taking.

5 RIFLES soldiers on phone

American soldiers on deployment have been banned from using geo-location software, including phone applications that can track an individual's location.

The announcement means such software will be banned whilst in "operational areas", and commanders will determine other areas where the software can or cannot be used.

The British military have themselves come under fire for potential breaches of security as a result of smartphone use.

Last week, reports suggested secrets had been revealed on the UK's F-35B fighter jet aircraft via the dating app 'Tinder'.

Earlier this year, the fitness app 'Strava' appeared to reveal the movements of soldiers stationed at foreign military bases in countries like Afghanistan and Syria. 

The locations and outlines of well-known US military bases, as well as other lesser-known and potentially sensitive sites, were highlighted through the map, possibly because American soldiers and other personnel are using fitness trackers as they move around.

Restrictions of this sort also apply here in the UK - something which can cause difficulty when it comes to communicating with loved ones back home.

According to military personnel, they are giving comprehensive briefings as to how not to use mobile phones whilst on operations. 

As with their American counterpart, they are frequently told to disable any software which makes use of GPS to avoid detection by unwanted sources.

As well as operational restrictions, those in the Royal Navy might face additional challenges because of the unpredictable signal in the middle of the ocean.

However, the Royal Navy does say that it will do its best to notify family and friends as and when communications are restricted due to safety or security reasons.

The Navy warns mobile users of the risks of interception, stating on their website:

“If you do use a mobile, remember they are not secure so be careful what you discuss.”

Strava Heatmap
PICTURED: Strava Heatmap

The Royal Air Force combats the problem of restricted communication by providing its personnel with welfare phonecalls of 30 minutes per week, reminding those at home that it is “unlikely that you will be able to phone directly whilst they are away on operations. “

The risk of mobile use is clear; the website also warns of interception:

“If you do use a mobile, remember they are not secure so be careful what you discuss. If you experience any unusual, anonymous or nuisance phone calls always call the Unit or the police.

“Remember this may be the work of a foreign intelligence agency.”

Location of personnel can be tracked by the use of specific apps (Picture: PA).

Back in 2014, the Financial Times reported that troops would be permitted to use their own smartphones when accessing Ministry of Defence systems due to frustrations logging in.

Previously, personnel had to go through a complex network to access certain military networks for even the most mundane of tasks.

However, military personnel were and still are expected to conform to the strict rules around the use of personal devices such as mobile phones and iPads.