US Warns of Potential Data Leaks from Chinese-Made UAVs
May 21: The US government has issued an alert warning that Chinese-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones), could pose a cyber-espionage risk to American businesses and other organisations that use them.
The notice added that those using UAVs for tasks related to national security or critical infrastructure were most at risk.
While the warning does not refer to a specific company, market-leader DJI said it had taken steps to keep its clients’ data secure. “We give customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted,” the firm said in a statement. DJI accounts for more than 70% of the US market in drones costing more than $500, according to research firm Skylogic. Yuneec – the second bestselling Chinese manufacturer – has also said that it gives users full control of their data.
The notice was issued on Monday by the US’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, according to CNN, which was first to report the development.
“The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access,” it quoted the memo as saying.
“China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.”
It is not the first time the US has raised such concerns. In August 2017, the US Army prohibited troops from using DJI’s drones because of unspecified cyber-security concerns. The same month, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said it suspected DJI was “providing US critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government”. DJI reacted at the time by saying it only collected flight logs and captured images if users opted to share them, but it also introduced a privacy mode that it said prevented any data being uploaded to the internet.
The timing of the latest warning came days after the Trump administration imposed restrictions on US firms using and providing technology to Huawei, another Shenzhen-based tech firm. Washington has cited concerns that Beijing could compel the telecoms equipment provider to help it spy on and otherwise attack countries that use its products – something the Chinese Communist Party and Huawei itself have denied.
That has led to speculation that Chinese drone-makers could be next to face an official ban.
But that could prove disruptive to a range of public agencies.
Last week, a report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials highlighted that all 50 of the US’s states were now using drones in some official capacity and that 36 employed certified UAV pilots.
Tasks involved range from road and bridge inspections, it said, to creating complex farming programmes.