Here at D-marc we’ve taken an avid interest in one of the cool new technological advances that is set to make a real difference to safety and reduce the need to work at height. We’re talking about drones which we’ve already covered in several different articles recently, including some advice on how to learn to fly a drone and how to set about becoming a commercial drone pilot. As always, we’ve been watching in the news for recent developments and we’ve come across a news story from America where the Department of Homeland Security recently issued a warning that drones manufactured by Chinese companies may pose security risks, including that the data they gather may be stolen.
It seems that the increase in the popularity in drones in America has resulted in their widespread use. Oil companies fly drones over pipelines, electrical utilities use drones to inspect transmission lines, they were even used by the US Interior Department to track the lava flows when the Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii erupted last May destroying more than 700 homes and destroying Hawaii’s largest natural freshwater lake. Most of the drones bought and used in America are manufactured in China, with the majority of them originating with just one company, DJI Technology.
On May 20th, the Department of Homeland Security sent out an alert, warning that drones in general present multiple threats, including their “potential use for terrorism, mass casualty incidents, interferences with air traffic, as well as corporate espionage and invasions of privacy”.
According to Lanier Watkins, a cyber-research scientist at John Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute, his working team discovered vulnerabilities in the drones produced by DJI Technology’s drones which allowed the team to both gather from and upload information to a drone whilst it’s in flight. He also warned that it’s possible to hijack a drone. Watkins believes that this will result in vulnerabilities as the information being collected by a drone could be intercepted, giving access to the data to anybody tech-savvy enough to know how to do so.
The Department of Homeland Security’s warnings come alongside the Trump administration’s trade war with China and officials are warning transit agencies in New York and Washington DC against buying new subway cars from Chinese manufacturers. Indeed, in 2017, the US Army banned the use of DJI’s drones after concerns were expressed by the US government.
Underlying these concerns is the Chinese government’s control over all Chinese companies, which led Warner to caution that China’s Communist Party “now has in their law the ability to interfere and take information from virtually every Chinese company”. He went on to warn that as long as this ability exists, American businesses should take these vulnerabilities into account in future and to warn all customers to be cautious when buying Chinese technology products.