The Trouble(s) with DJI’s Aeroscope

DJI is the world’s largest manufacturer of civilian drones and its products can be found in a wide variety of recreational and commercial settings. Given the ubiquity of DJI drones, their ease of use and affordability, many governments and police entities around the world now employ them in their day-to-day operations.

In October 2017, following a series of drone-related incidents, the Chinese drone giant released a drone detection and tracking system called Aeroscope designed to allow security administrators to spot errant or hostile DJI UAS in their airspace. Aeroscope has been adopted at a few major airports and is seen by some as an answer to a growing drone threat to air traffic. But, Aeroscope comes with some serious issues of its own.

Risky Investment?

Tensions have been rising between the United States and DJI’s home country of China and US officials have become increasingly fearful of Chinese-made devices potentially spying on American communications and critical infrastructure and transferring information back to China. 

In May 2019, President Trump signed an executive order allowing the US government to ban the importation or use at sensitive sites of flagged Chinese tech, declaring a “national emergency” over alleged attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in American IT and communication systems for spying purposes. Huawei’s 5G project has already been targeted for suppression by the US government and various US allies dropped the technology under American pressure. Could DJI and its products, including Aeroscope, be next?

The future looks ominous. Although the executive order singled no specific country or company out for punishment, it was widely interpreted as a swipe at China. Furthermore, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the US Department of Homeland Security issued an alert on May 2019 that Chinese-made drones may pose a “potential risk to an organization’s information.” The alert continued, 

The United States government has strong concerns about any technology product that takes American data into the territory of an authoritarian state that permits its intelligence services to have unfettered access to that data or otherwise abuses that access…Those concerns apply with equal force to certain Chinese-made (unmanned aircraft systems)-connected devices capable of collecting and transferring potentially revealing data about their operations and the individuals and entities operating them, as China imposes unusually stringent obligations on its citizens to support national intelligence activities.”

Once again, no particular company was singled-out, but given that DJI drones account for around 80% of the US and Canada civilian drone market and that it maintains its headquarters and servers in Shenzhen, China,  DJI is the most likely target. DJI has vigorously denied any involvement in espionage and taken steps to relocate some of its operations to North America, but among US officials a heavy cloud of suspicion hangs over the company.

If the Department of Homeland Security or President Trump decides to crack down on DJI technology, use of Aeroscope, particularly at sensitive sites in American territory such as airports, seaports or military infrastructure may become impossible. And the threat isn’t limited only to the United States. As illustrated by the case of Huawei, the American government has been known to put heavy pressure on its allies to divest themselves of technology it considers dangerous, meaning security administrators in Europe, the Americas, and Australia may be forced to throw out Aeroscope and other DJI products if they want to continue doing business with the US.

Although the threat of an American crackdown should weigh heavily on the mind of anyone thinking of integrating Aeroscope into their airspace security set up, Aeroscope presents a couple of other serious limitations that merit consideration.

CerbAir is proud to be the French leader in counter-drone solutions with proprietary technology developed in-house, within the European Union. That means there are no potential backdoors or diplomatic snags that could put your sensitive airspace, or your investment at risk.

The Other 20%

DJI drones account for about 80% of the civilian drones on the market today and its Aeroscope system is capable of picking up the vast majority of them. But what about the other 20%? In the case of a dedicated criminal or terrorist group, the solution is as simple as purchasing a non-DJI drone (of which there are dozens of models and companies to choose from) to slip through a security system and reach their target. Some adversaries, like the Syrian rebels who attacked a Russian airbase in early 2018, even build their own drones from scratch – making impossible for Aeroscope to catch.

At CerbAir, our drone detection solution detects the overwhelming majority of civilian drones on the market today (DJI and non-DJI alike), and our direction-finding feature allows a security administrator to locate the rogue drone pilot on top of his UAV. Police or security personnel can be immediately directed to the area and apprehend the offending pilot, eliminating the drone threat at its root and reducing the chances of repeated incidents. Gatwick’s nearly 3-day closure cost the airport authority and airlines nearly £17 million in lost revenue. Imagine the savings if the drone operator could have been taken out within the very first hour of the incident.

Is it worth the risk?

DJI and Aeroscope are household names and many people are attracted to the simplicity of adopting an Aeroscope anti-drone solution without really doing much research on the pros and cons. But, buyer beware. While Aeroscope is a fine product, the risks of a US crackdown on DJI and the limitations and vulnerabilities built into Aeroscope’s fabric might make it more trouble than you’ve bargained for. 

When looking for an anti-drone solution, ease of installation and use, as well as cost should all figure into your calculations. But a few other key features to consider include a CUAS solution that is:

  • Unlikely to get caught up in diplomatic struggles between superpowers,
  • Does not suffer from potential espionage and hacking risks (prefer in-house developed technology),
  • Detects nearly all drones on the market, not just one brand,

About CerbAir

CerbAir is a European leader in CUAS (anti-drone) detection and neutralization solutions. CerbAir’s DroneWatch is a combination of scalable, drone detection with our Hydra radio frequency sensor and our software powered by proprietary algorithms. Our anti-drone solutions allow security administrators to detect, characterize and neutralize* hostile drones and locate their pilots from the moment the drone remote control is switched on.

*The purchase or usage of jamming technologies only applies to public order, national defense or national security needs, or public law enforcement in accordance with local regulations.