It is no secret that DJI, a Chinese technology company headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong is the world’s largest UAV manufacture with a global market share of 65%. On August 9, 2017, a leaked memo from the Los Angeles U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) claimed that DJI is transmitting data to the Chinese government using DJI cloud-connected drones and Apps to provide law enforcement and critical infrastructure data to China.
While the claims aren't a certainty, according to ICE they have a rating of "moderate confidence." The memo claims the SIP with "high confidence" that DJI is targeting government and privately owned companies in both law enforcement and infrastructure to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data. Groups targeted include utility companies that provide drinking water in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Jersey; and railway companies in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Omaha.
The SIP LA office goes on claiming other issues with the DJI GO and SkyPixel mobile apps but the main issue is that the SIP LA has "high confidence [that] a foreign government with access to this information could easily coordinate physical or cyber attacks against critical sites."
I am no fan of conspiracy theories, but China or not, we should be careful of foreign governments gaining access to infrastructure or private information.
On October 12, 2017, DJI announced a new Drone detection technology to identify and track airborne drones called AeroScope. The goal of AeroScope is to notify law enforcement and authorities when a drone enters an airspace.
Here is how it works. In a typical flight, non-autonomous flight mode, the DJI aircraft broadcast data via radio telemetry: speed, GPS position, altitude, direction, etc to the ground controller. AeroScope captures this data from drones flying in the area and displays its GPS location and registration number.
While AeroScope will detect all DJI made units and retrofits, most likely it will not detect other brands because it does not have access to the communication protocol used by these brands.
Why it is not recommended for law enforcement to deploy AeroScope as a Drone detection countermeasure?
- DJI already admitted to the possibility of them sharing data. Their user agreement warns customers: "If you conduct your flight in certain countries, your flight data might be monitored and provided to the government authorities according to local regulatory laws"
- Chinese companies have been accused of creating product back doors. Hikvision, a company owned and controlled by the Chinese government, is the world's largest video surveillance manufacture have experienced back door issues. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland security issues an advisory notice on the cybersecurity threat that Hikvision cameras pose and canceled a bid for using Hikvision at the American Embassy in Islamabad.
- Would you buy a Russian radar if you are on the lookout for MiG's? Some might think I am far reaching here, but these drone detection systems might end up on an RFP for a US embassy, similar to what happened on the Hikvision camera example that I gave above. We love drones and their benefits...But Drones can be used to spy and launch a cyber or a military attack...It is worth a pause.
- This solution works only on DJI products. While YES they control a large market share, the remaining 35% is still a significant number. Most likely criminals up to no good can purchase a non-DJI drone with ease from Amazon.
- Worthless with the Autonomous mode. Missions can be preset with no communications between the pilot and drone, meaning the drone can fly undetected.
What do we suggest?
- Pick a Drone detection manufacture that does not build or sell unmanned Aircraft
- Pick a 3rd party Drone detection system, one that has no favorites and with the only goal to integrate and detect every drone manufacture in the world.
- Don’t pick a drone detection system that is limited to one technology. Single sensor systems are weak by inheritance and easier to spoof. Sensors such as audio, video analytics, and radar are now available and should be used together when it comes to drone detection.
What are available drone detection solutions?
Here is list of drone detection solution that are available now from companies that do not manfacture drones:
- Dedrone, USA
- DroneShield, Australia
- Department 13, USA
- Detect Inc, USA
- Gryphon Sensor, USA
- SensoFusion, Finland
- WhiteFox, USA
China has dominated the Drone manufacturing market, and AeroScope is an attempt by DJI to solve upcoming fears about rogue drones. Due to the previous history of privacy issues and back doors with many Chinese manufacturers, AeroScope single sensor platform and its restriction to work only with DJI products, our opinion is that the offering is not complete or recommended at this time. At the end, we are not saying don't by DJI products, but just be careful when it comes to Anti-drone countermeasures. There are many products that you can source without taking a risk of purchasing a sensitive drone detection product made by a company that does not have a squeaky clean reputation.
Future Predictions: DJI is leaving the door open for other manufacturers to join its system. Is it a predicted move from DJI to stay as the market leaser in an industry already dominated by them. We doubt that other manufacturers will jump on this unless it is managed by a third party association, but we'll see what happens.