The US government has warned companies about security threats posed by Chinese-made drones, the latest in a series of advisories by Washington that portray Chinese technology products as potential conduits to intelligence organs in Beijing.

In an alert issued on Monday, the US Department of Homeland Security advised US companies to "be aware of whether your UAS [unmanned aerial systems] data is being stored by the vendor or other third parties. If it is being stored, find out how, where and for how long," according to reports by CNN and Reuters.

"Information sharing is a key part of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency's mission as the nation's risk advisers," an agency spokeswoman said in an email.

"CISA recently released an industry alert providing organisations with information related to the inherit risks associated with using UAS technology manufactured in China and measures to reduce such risk", the spokeswoman said.


The spokeswoman declined to share the alert, explaining that it was "for official use only".

CISA's alert says drones are a "potential risk to an organisation's information", according to CNN. The products "contain components that can compromise your data and share your information on a server accessed beyond the company itself".

China's SZ DJI Technology, the world's largest maker of consumer drones, said on Monday that "the security of our technology has been independently verified by the US government and leading US businesses".

The company added that it gives "customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored and transmitted". It said that for government and critical infrastructure customers, "we provide drones that do not transfer data to DJI or via the internet".

China's SZ DJI is the world's largest manufacturer of drones for non-military use. It makes some of the world's most popular models in a market that aviation industry consultancy Teal Group estimated at about US$4.4 billion in 2018 in terms of the production of models used for consumer, commercial and non-military government purposes.The Department of Homeland Security's alert could create a challenge to DJI's efforts to grow in a crucial market.

"Commercial use will surpass the consumer drone market in 2024, becoming the largest segment of the civil market," Teal Group said in a July 2018 report. This segment "will grow eightfold over the decade to reach US$7.3 billion in 2027".

Chinese UAS companies "are focusing on continuing their lead in hardware, moving from consumer to commercial systems", the report added.

The Trump administration last week added Huawei and 70 of its affiliates to an "entity list" of firms deemed to be national security threats, effectively prohibiting the firm from buying US technology and components. The ban went into effect on Friday.


Trump also issued an executive order banning US firms from using technology produced by any company assessed to be a national security risk, in a move interpreted to be further pretext keep Huawei's products out of the US market.

DJI drones got five out of six spots in an October 2018 ranking of best models "for every level of aerial photographer" published by New York magazine.

The report, for example, identifies the DJI Phantom 4 PRO drone quadcopter bundle kit as the best option for photography.
- South China Morning Post