Yesterday, the United States Interior Department signed an order to ground its fleet of more than 800 drones for non-emergency operations following ongoing concerns of cybersecurity threats.
As reported by NPR, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt didn’t specifically say the fleet of drones were capable of being hacked in the order, but did note that information collected by the drones could potentially be ‘valuable to foreign entities, organizations and governments.’
This new order cements a ‘pause’ Bernhardt ordered roughly three months ago to cease the use of Chinese-manufactured drones for Interior Department business, with the exception of emergency use-cases. In a statement given to The Verge at that time, Interior spokesperson Melissa Brown said ‘the Secretary has directed that drones manufactured in China or made from Chinese components be grounded unless they are currently being utilized for emergency purposes, such as fighting wildfires, search and rescue, and dealing with natural disasters that may threaten life or property.’
No specific companies were mentioned in the initial order, nor yesterday’s, but it’s clear Chinese drone manufacturer DJI is in the crosshairs.
Following yesterday’s order from Bernhardt, Chinese drone manufacturer DJI issued a statement on its website, saying:
‘[DJI] is extremely disappointed by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) order released today which inappropriately treats a technology’s country of origin as a litmus test for its performance, security and reliability […] We are opposed to the politically-motivated country of origin restrictions masquerading as cybersecurity concerns and call for policymakers and industry stakeholders to create clear standards that will give commercial and government drone operators the assurance they need to confidently evaluate drone technology on the merits of performance, security and reliability, no matter where it is made.’
DJI manufactures specific ‘government edition’ versions of its Matrice 600 Pro and Mavic Pro drones, both of which are currently listed in the Interior Department’s fleet. These specific models use special firmware and software to fit the needs of the Interior Department and were previously signed off for use by the Interior Department following a 15-month testing period that concluded with a 53-page report. Other drones in the U.S. agency’s fleet include the Autel Evo, Parrot Anafi, FireFLY Pro/S, 3DR Solo Quadcopter and Pulse Vapor 55TM Helicopter.
|DJI’s Matrice 600 Pro drone is just one of the half-a-dozen different drone models in the Interior Department’s drone fleet.|
This new order will, like the pause announced back in October 2019, will remain in effect until a subsequent order overturns it, as there is no end-date mentioned. Like the pause back in October, emergency use-cases ‘will continue to be allowed in approved situations for emergency purposes, such as fighting wildfires, search and rescue, and dealing with natural disasters that may threaten life or property,’ according to an Interior Department spokesperson.
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