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Spies in the air

The US wants to ban Chinese drones and in Spain they are everywhere

US suspicions of possible espionage by the Xi Jinping government flood the sector of small drones

The United States Government is preparing to cancel its civil drone program for fear of Chinese espionage. The nearly one thousand devices of Chinese origin of the Department of Interior have been on the ground since November. Now, according to the Financial Times, the final abolition of the program seems imminent. The end of the service is serious because civil drones are responsible for monitoring emergencies, forests, borders or sensitive areas. Without these drones, many of their jobs should return to manned flights, more expensive and dangerous.

Chinese devices have no simple alternative: the country's companies dominate the global small drone market with a lot of competitive advantage. The decision may become another episode in the technological battle between China and the United States, where Huawei has been the main victim, linked to the new cold war by 5G, and the app of the moment, TikTok, the most controversial controversy (TikTok It is Chinese and is in millions of mobiles around the world).

In Europe and Spain, as in the other examples of the technological war with China, the concern is minor or disguised. In Spain there are five DJI drone dealers. Among all these institutions, they gather more than one hundred DJI drones, with numerous negotiations underway to continue growing.

Chinese drones have been under suspicion in the US since 2017. The US military then banned the devices of the DJI (Da Jiang Innovations) company, which dominates the global market, for fear of espionage. In August of that year DJI opened a challenge for hackers to find vulnerabilities in their systems and prove they were reliable. One of the hackers, Kevin Finisterre, was able to access his servers and found everything: "Passport information, driving license, state cards and flight diaries. Another thing I did to judge the impact of the exhibition was look for '.mil', '.gov', 'gov.au' domains; immediately flight summaries for a lot of potentially sensitive locations appeared, "Finisterre explains in the report he wrote about all the legal problems he had with DJI for revelations

"That the drones of that Chinese brand may be sending the data, for me there is no doubt because it has already been demonstrated in the past, as did Finisterre," says Pedro Cabrera, founder of Eton Shield, an ethical telecommunications hacking company . "And not only from Chinese manufacturers. I was able to verify the same with a French brand. I was able to get all the information about flights of that brand that had flown over several cities, including Madrid; they all contained the basic flight information (time, route , state) and some even contained the photos or videos the pilot had taken, "he adds.

The Spanish Ministry of Interior, to questions of this newspaper, has declined to comment if they are going to take any action against Chinese drones. The Ministry of Defense, on the other hand, has admitted that it has no DJI drone and has detailed its guides to acquire small drones: "The Ministry of Defense is aware of the need for RPAS systems [unmanned aerial vehicle, in its acronym in English] of small size that allows to cover the need to obtain information of tactical level ".

To this end, Defense has created a "General Staff Requirements" and now prepares "the Determination Stage of the procurement alternative. In this step the specific material resources to be obtained are evaluated and the industrial, technological, logistic, contractual aspects are assessed. and cost associated with the proposed operational or functional solution. These aspects include the evaluation and certification of security in information technology and telecommunications (ICT), which allows to assess and accredit their ability to handle information safely " .

Proof of the difficulty of replacing these small drones with viable alternatives is that US special forces continue to buy them, despite the veto. Your option is to add software that limits the potential security hazards of drones of Chinese origin. "We know that much of this information [from the drones] is sent to China, so it is something we cannot use," a senior Pentagon official told reporters in December.

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