Major General Marcus Thompson (deputy chief information warfare) told a parliamentary hearing the Australian Defence Force became aware of commentary from Army colleagues in the United States about a DJI manufactured Chinese drone and “virtually immediately” took action and suspended its use.
There were some concerns regarding the cyber security characteristics of the device,” the officer told the Senate’s Defence Estimate hearing after being question by the committee’s deputy chair Alex Gallacher.
Acting chief of the Australian Defence Force Vice Admiral Ray Griggs then interjected: “We are being deliberately vague, Senator”.
Senator Gallacher said it was his understanding the drone had the ability to be commandeered by another nation and land it and it was perhaps weak in terms of control.
The ADF had used the camera-mounted drone for a number of activities including public affairs activities through to local military surveillance.
Senator Gallacher asked whether it was a security breach since information could be captured to which again military chiefs moved for the questioning to be taken “offline” and held behind closed doors in a private briefing for the committee.
The US military suspended the use of the Chinese-made drone on August 2 with the ADF taking a similar step one week later, 24 hours after they were advised, on August 10.
The ADF conducted a risk assessment and the ADF has since recommenced its use but in non-sensitive “unclassified situations”.
The Americans had warned Australian counterparts the Chinese Government likely had a secret key to break DJI’s drone encryption.
It was also suggested the drone’s software could be remotely controlled and or include malicious features. DJI has dismissed the claims and said its drones were manufactured for “peaceful purposes” not military use.