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Chinese-made drones may be stealing data, warns US


Washington:  Chinese-made drones may be sending sensitive flight data to their manufacturers in Beijing, where it can be accessed by the government there, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned in an alert.

The drones are a "potential risk to an organization's information", CNN quoted the alert from DHS's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as saying on Monday. 

The products "contain components that can compromise your data and share your information on a server accessed beyond the company itself".

The DHS does not name any specific manufacturers, but nearly 80 per cent of the drones used in the US and Canada come from DJI, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, China. 

US local law enforcement organizations and infrastructure operators have grown to rely on drones in recent years.

"The US 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.

"Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities," the alert added.

The warning from DHS follows an executive order signed by President Donald Trump last week that effectively banned US firms from using telecommunications equipment made by the Chinese company Huawei, which has drawn similar national security concerns of government spying, CNN reported.

The US and China are currently locked in a trade war that has frayed the two countries' relationship as it deteriorated in recent weeks.

US officials have raised national security concerns about Chinese-made drones also in the past. 

In 2017, the US Army issued a ban the use of DJI drones, alleging that the company shared critical infrastructure and law enforcement data with the Chinese government.

Also that year, an internal report from an intelligence division of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency in Los Angeles assessed that DJI was "selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within the US to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive US data".

In a statement on Monday, DJI said that it gives customers "full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted", adding that "customers can enable all the precautions DHS recommends".

DJI, which reported $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017, is best known for its popular Phantom drone. Introduced in 2013, it is the top-selling commercial drone on the market.

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