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US Government, DJI Clash Over Drone Data Security

DJI Mavic dronePhoto credit: Yanjipy
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Top photo credit: Yanjipy

A leaked document from the Department of Homeland Security warns Chinese-made drones can send sensitive data to the Chinese government. DJI says that’s not the case.

An internal alert from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims the Chinese government can access data recorded by drones manufactured there, according to CNN.

The alert does not name any specific manufacturers, only “Chinese-made” unmanned aircraft. But DJI, based in Shenzhen, China, stands as the largest drone brand, boasting about $3 billion in revenue. And in the wake of the report, DJI issued an unequivocal repudiation of the alert.

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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,” the company said when asked to comment.

“We give all customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted. 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.”

US Claims Chinese Drones Pose Security Risk

Today’s revelation is not the first time the U.S. has called out Chinese drones — or DJI. Since 2017, the U.S. Army has banned the use of DJI drones due to security concerns. Following the incident, a “bounty hacker” found a critical security gap in DJI drones.

Ars Technica reported that researcher Kevin Finisterre managed to access flight log data and images uploaded by DJI customers, including driver’s licenses, photos of government IDs, and passports.

DJI refuted the report but pushed out Local Data Mode, which allowed users to fly drones without an internet connection. Further complicating today’s leaked report are the growing tensions between the U.S. and Chinese governments amidst the trade war.

So, is it safe to fly your drone? Most likely, yeah. Just don’t shoot video of your social security card or secret underground missile silos.

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