Cybersecdn- In recent developments, United States agencies have raised alarms over the potential security risks posed by Chinese drones. This concern is anchored in the widespread use of these “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS) in critical infrastructure operations across the United States. A joint memo from the FBI and the newly established Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) highlights the inadvertent transmission of sensitive data to Chinese servers by these drones.
These unmanned systems, often integral to infrastructure management, may unknowingly expose vulnerabilities in key sectors. This includes the possibility of intellectual property details falling into the hands of China’s intelligence services. Moreover, the risk of cyber-attacks on vital networks is heightened due to potential data access by Chinese entities.
The 2017 National Intelligence Law in China mandates compliance from Chinese companies to assist state intelligence, including sharing all user data collected globally. This law, coupled with the 2021 Data Security Law imposing stringent penalties for non-compliance, raises significant concerns. The FBI and CISA memo underscores that data collection is crucial to China’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy, aiming to gain a strategic edge over the United States by accessing advanced technologies and expertise.
Recognizing the benefits of drones in reducing operational costs and enhancing staff safety, the FBI and CISA advise considering secure alternatives, preferably U.S.-manufactured drones. This recommendation comes amidst previous warnings from U.S. federal agencies about the dangers of Chinese-made drones. Notably, in 2017, the U.S. Army prohibited the procurement of drones from DJI, a leading Chinese manufacturer, following security concerns.
In the political arena, U.S. lawmakers have taken a stand. In 2022, U.S. senators expressed concerns about Chinese drones in restricted airspaces, and Representative Elise Stefanik, along with Representative Mike Gallagher, advocated for restricting DJI’s use of U.S. communication channels, citing the Chinese government’s investment in DJI.
The legislative response to these concerns materialized in the 2024 defense authorization bill, which included the American Security Drone Act of 2023. This act prohibits federal entities from procuring or using drones made by Chinese companies or entities under China’s influence or control.
While the DoD’s “Blue UAS Cleared List” provides alternatives, a challenge remains in the comparatively lower quality and higher costs of American-made drones. Despite this, Stefanik and Gallagher emphasize the need for a total ban on CCP-backed drones to protect American infrastructure and bolster the U.S. drone industry.