Ride on Tracking Apps

Written by Alex Bennett

Social media executive

Could tracking apps such as Strava be aiding thieves in locating and stealing high-end bikes?

Police and cybersecurity firms have issued a warning to cyclists to be careful when uploading their data to ride-tracking apps as they could be involuntarily helping bike thieves.

In a report from Sky News, Peter Murtagh, a keen triathlete, recently had his high end racing and road bikes stolen in a daylight raid on his home.

Mr Murtagh believes that the thieves knew exactly where to look due to his data sharing.

He used Strava to record his cycling data, tracking his speed and to compete against other users, however did not realise that his setting were set to “public” as default.

This default setting meant that anyone on the app could see when he was online. The make and model of his top of the range bikes were also recorded.

"I've been using Strava for four years," Mr Murtagh said. "I had the two bikes listed. So anybody could log on to Strava, search my name, and they'd be able to find my exact location.

"I suspect Strava played a role in targeting me, as my bike's always locked in my house. So it seems the criminals were just after the bikes, that's all they stole."

Thankfully Mr Murtagh utilised the power of social media for good and managed to retrieve his bikes after posting about the theft on Facebook and Twitter, though this experience isn’t just a one off.

Adam Lang, police officer in Gwent, explained that they saw a spike in bike thefts in January and February, with the common denominator being high-end cycles.

Speaking to Sky Mr Lang said, "We needed to contact the victims and see if we could find if there was any connection between them. And through those enquiries we came up with the fact these mapping apps were being used, not by all, but there were quite a lot of them.

"Due to the fact they were all high-end bikes and they were clearly targeted, we feel these mapping apps could be used to target these high-end bikes. Because looking at the maps, you could clearly see where these people had started their rides and where they'd finished them."

Mr Lang urged cyclists to be more aware of the problem when using ride-tracking apps.

"I think social media, that's been well advertised that you should have your accounts locked down and regularly check your privacy settings," Mr Lang said.

"I don't think a lot of people were aware that these mapping apps can basically give a huge amount of information to a would-be thief. So we need to have people checking their privacy."

Joel Windels, vice president of marketing at cybersecurity firm Wandera also spoke to Sky, explaining how a feature – intended to help users by masking their home locations – could be manipulated by thieves to help them track cyclist’s bikes down.

Strava’s “privacy zone” masks where you start and end your ride or jog, making the line on the map disappear. However Mr Windels says, “The problem is that by taking the points at which your run disappears, you can actually triangulate your location.

"If you look at three different runs that someone has done using the Strava app, you'll actually be able to draw circles round them, and if you enlarge those circles, where they meet is where that person is trying to keep secret."

Bike campaign groups have stated that cyclists must ensure they check their privacy settings and be careful about what they post online in general.