US Suspects DJI Drones Send Data to Chinese Government

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sent out a memo to US law enforcement and private businesses in August 2017, warning that Chinese drone-maker DJI has been spying on the US at the behest of China, Bleeping Computer reported on Tuesday. In the memo, officials assessed "with moderate confidence that Chinese-based company DJI Science and Technology is providing US critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government."

According to the memo, the most frequent uses of DJI drones include mapping land, inspecting infrastructure, conducting surveillance, and monitoring hazardous materials. "The UAS operate on two Android smartphone applications called DJI GO and Sky Pixels that automatically tag GPS imagery and locations, register facial recognition data even when the system is off, and access users' phone data," the memo reads.

According to the DHS, the apps automatically upload this data to servers located in Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, "to which the Chinese government most likely has access." The Agency believes troves of data detailing critical US infrastructure and operations has now been sent to China. Based on information the DHS has obtained, DJI drones have been used to "capture close-up imagery and GPS information on water systems, rail systems, hazardous material storage systems, first responders' activity, and construction of highways, bridges, and rails."

The US fears that the "Chinese government could use [this data] to conduct physical or cyber-attacks against the United States and its population."

In two statements [12], DJI denounced all accusations and pointed out several inaccuracies regarding the report's assessing of its drones' technical capabilities and the company's pricing practices.

"DJI is aware of a bulletin about DJI issued in August by an agent in the Los Angeles office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bulletin is based on clearly false and misleading claims from an unidentified source. Through the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, DJI provided ICE a detailed rebuttal of the report, explaining why the data behind its conclusions is deeply flawed," DJI wrote in one of the statements.

"As DJI explained to ICE, the allegations in the bulletin are so profoundly wrong as a factual matter that ICE should consider withdrawing it, or at least correcting its unsupportable assertions. DJI further urged ICE to consider whether the source of the allegations may have had a competitive or improper motive to interfere with DJI's legitimate business by making false allegations about DJI," the company added.