DHS warns of ‘strong concerns’ that Chinese-made drones are stealing data

Elias Hubbard
May 22, 2019

In the middle of a rapidly intensifying fight between the United States and Beijing over Chinese telecom giant Huawei, the Department of Homeland Security warned companies on data security risks if they use commercial drones made in China, according to reports from CyberScoop and Politico.

No specific manufacturers are named in the report, but nearly 80 percent of all drones used in the USA and Canada are made by DJI, a firm located in Shenzen, China.

The alert comes as US officials have engaged in a broader campaign to warn private companies and allies of the security risks Washington feels are inherent in gear made by Chinese telecommunications companies Huawei and ZTE. DJI says that's not the case.

Google, Intel and Qualcomm responded by immediately halting sales to Huawei, leaving the tech firm's ability to keep up its smartphone manufacturing operation in question, and barring the Chinese firm from including some features of Google's Android operating system in its phones.

Asked for comment on the alert, a CISA spokesperson said, "Information sharing is a key part of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's mission as the nation's risk advisors". That is until you notice the small color screen near the lens on the front of the camera.

It is not the first time the U.S. has raised such concerns.

In a statement, DJI said that it gives customers "full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted", adding that "customers can enable all the precautions DHS recommends". American action follows years of Chinese bans on USA tech companies including Google and Facebook.

An advisory against using these drones would include Chinese drone maker DJI's extensive portfolio, including the DJI Spark. and the DJI Mavic Air, which CNET has reviewed as being "a folding 4K mini drone that's close to ideal". According to the 2017 ICE memo, contractors in Kansas building a DHS bio-defense facility used a DJI drone "to assist with construction layout and provide security during construction". Companies using the devices are advised to shut off their network connectivity to avoid "theft of information".

In response to that growing Chinese market share, DHS officials are asking USA companies, particularly those that operate critical infrastructure, to be mindful of how drones interact with their networks. The DHS advisory is the clearest sign yet that the government is taking aim at DJI because of its near-monopoly in ready-to-fly drones. Most likely, yeah. Just don't shoot video of your social security card or secret underground missile silos.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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