The US government is warning that Chinese-made consumer drones could pose a data theft threat, sending data back to company headquarters in China that could then be accessed by the Chinese government.
CNN reports that the warning came in an alert issued by the US Department of Homeland Security on Monday.
Chinese drones pose a “potential risk to an organization’s information” and “contain components that can compromise your data and share your information on a server accessed beyond the company itself,” the alert obtained by CNN reads. “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.”
The US government warns that drone purchasers should “be cautious when purchasing” from China and take steps like limiting a drone’s connection to the Internet to avoid “theft of information.”
And while the report doesn’t name any specific brands, an estimated 80% of consumer drones in the US are made by drone juggernaut DJI, which is based in Shenzhen, China.
The US has had concerns about Chinese drones in the past, with the US Army ending its use of DJI drones in 2017, citing “cyber vulnerabilities.” Two months later, DJI released a new privacy mode that allows its drones to be flown completely offline.
DJI responded to CNN’s report by stating that it takes data storage and transmission seriously and that it also makes drones that do not transfer any data to DJI.
In a statement to CNN, the company says it gives “full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted” and that “customers can enable all the precautions DHS recommends.”
“At DJI, safety is at the core of everything we do, and the security of our technology has been independently verified by the U.S. government and leading U.S. businesses,” DJI says. “For government and critical infrastructure customers that require additional assurances, we provide drones that do not transfer data to DJI or via the internet, and our customers can enable all the precautions DHS recommends.
“Every day, American businesses, first responders, and U.S. government agencies trust DJI drones to help save lives, promote worker safety, and support vital operations, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
DJI reported revenues of $2.7 billion in 2017 and is one of China’s prized homegrown technology innovators. With the trade war between the US and China heating up and given that the US just blacklisted the Chinese smartphone giant Huawei, this latest alert will lead many to wonder whether DJI will soon receive a similar blow.