It looks like Russian spies are trying to geolocate U.S. soldiers, gather personal information about them, and generally freak them out.
The Wall Street Journal writes that U.S. soldiers sent to Eastern Europe have had a series of bizarre issues with their smartphones, all of which point to outsiders trying to gain access to information on their phones. The goal appears to be to gain information on the soldiers’ personal lives, gather data on their units, missions, and capabilities, and intimidate them.
The WSJ interviews one U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who said the «Find My iPhone» feature on his phone was activated. Typically used to recover a lost or stolen phone, the feature was apparently triggered by someone located in Moscow and was being used to locate his phone, himself, and by extension his unit. The colonel also said six soldiers under his command had their phones or Facebook accounts hacked.
Other instances have included soldiers’ contacts being erased and strangers approaching U.S. soldiers in Latvia and Poland, casually revealing personal information about them and their families before disappearing.
Smart phones, social media and geolocation can reveal a lot about soldiers and their units. A check-in at a foreign airport could reveal how a unit is transported, and a social media post mentioning the nearest town and a desire to check out the local bars could reveal a soldier’s unit location. A casual remark about being unable to attend a barbecue one weekend, but the next weekend being okay, could reveal when a soldier and his unit are returning from overseas. Wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends and family can also accidentally drop important information. All of this is useful to a foreign intelligence agency.
Other armed forces, particularly those bordering Russia such as Estonia have had experience with this sort of hacking and take precautions. Estonian soldiers must remove their SIM cards and are forced to jump into a lake to prove they don’t have smart phones on them.