Tactical

NCIS: Don’t turn on that smartwatch you randomly received in the mail

Someone has been randomly mailing smartwatches to U.S. Navy personnel, and officials are warning those who receive this free tech to not use the devices due to the potential for cyber-shadiness.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service confirmed Monday that “multiple” Navy personnel have reported receiving the unsolicited smartwatches in the mail, but NCIS officials declined to say exactly how many sailors are involved, citing an ongoing investigation.

“Smartwatches, like any wearable device, can be used by adversaries to gain a wide collection of personal information and pose a security threat to U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps service members,” NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston said in a statement.

Troops receiving such devices in the mail should report it to their chain of command or NCIS.

Over in the Army, soldiers have also been randomly receiving smartwatches in the mail.

The Army Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, issued a similar warning earlier this month, telling soldiers that the watches may contain malware that would grant whoever sent the peripherals “access to saved data to include banking information, contacts and account information such as usernames and passwords.”

A more innocuous tactic may also be to blame: so-called brushing, used in e-commerce to boost a seller’s ratings through fake orders and reviews, Defense News reported last week.

Wearable technology and downloadable applications have long clashed with the national security ecosystem, where secrecy is paramount. Smartwatches and their software log personal info and location data, can record audio, and often lack a sufficient means to validate users.

The New York Times in 2018 reported that Strava, a fitness app that posts a map of user activity, unwittingly revealed locations and habits of military bases and personnel, including those of American forces in the Middle East. And in 2020, Bellingcat reported military and intelligence personnel could be tracked via Untappd, a beer-rating social network.

Defense News reporter Colin Demarest contributed to this report.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at [email protected].

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