US Army recently banned the use of all drones built by drone maker DJI. The military warned that the drones might have unspecified "cyber vulnerabilities." The Army memo was published on August 2nd and read in part, "due to increased awareness of cyber vulnerabilities associated with DJI products, it is directed that the U.S. Army halt use of all DJI products."
DJI is a Chinese company and the US government has long had fears of Chinese manufacturers installing spyware or backdoors into products, giving them access to classified and sensitive data. DJI for its part has announced that it is working on something it calls "local data mode" for the apps needed to operate the drones it makes. This new mode would prevent any data from being sent or received via the internet.
Interestingly, DJI claims that the new feature has nothing to do with the Army's ban or fears of cyber vulnerabilities. "We are creating local data mode to address the needs of our enterprise customers, including public and private organizations that are using DJI technology to perform sensitive operations around the world," wrote Brendan Schulman, DJI's VP of Policy and Legal Affairs.
The US Army never said exactly what vulnerabilities it was concerned about or if it had discovered any vulnerabilities in the DJI drones it fields. It's possible that the Army simply had concerns about the smartphones and devices used to run the apps that control the drones in the field (which are designed to check with DJI servers regularly to ensure the apps are up to date).
TechCrunch was told by a DJI representative that "the Army memo caused customers to express renewed concern about data security." DJI's corporate communications director for North America, Adam Lisberg, added, "We're not responding to the Army, which has never explained its concerns to us. We’re accelerating the rollout of something we've been working on for a while. We announced it today because enterprise customers with serious data security have made clear they need something like this for a while, and the Army memo reinforced that concern for them. So we're addressing it quickly as part of our commitment to delivering what our enterprise customers need."
The update with the local data mode is due out in September.