back to article Drone maker DJI quietly made large chunks of Iraq, Syria no-fly zones

Drone bods DJI has quietly released a series of software updates that geofence off large areas of Iraq and Syria – indicating the Chinese firm is covertly helping the US war against Islamic extremists. The updates, quietly made to DJI’s Go app without any public fanfare, will prevent drones made by the firm from flying over …

  1. Ralph B

    Why Just War Zones?

    Why not also include airports, residential areas, sunbathers, forest fires, et al ... ?

    Force a firmware update of several gigabytes of geofence data before every flight! That'll learn 'em.

    (Seriously, it might be simpler to require drone pilots to submit a flight plan for every flight. Like real pilots do.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      Submission of a flight plan might a a sensible requirement for regular drone-ists, but I can't see that stopping Johnny Terrorist who, if I read this article correctly, is who these latest no-fly zones are intended for.

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Why Just War Zones?

        I think "Johnny Terrorist" (or his more techie mates) might easily be able to find a workaround.

        Might stop the odd lone wolf terrorist wannabe who does not have the capabilities to sort out a solution but would not stop an informed & organised group, single person working with knowledgeable group, single person with a clue.

    2. rh587 Bronze badge

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      (Seriously, it might be simpler to require drone pilots to submit a flight plan for every flight. Like real pilots do.)

      Not all real pilots. Class G is fairly loose, and that's where - by and large - drones should/will be operating. It's a rare thing for a glider pilot (for instance) to submit a plan unless they're intending to ride wave up to FL195 or otherwise play in lower Class C space.

    3. Andy 73

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      DJI alone has sold more than 20 times as many drones as all of the planes (commercial and civil) in the world. Can you suggest how the currently stretched air traffic systems cope with that many 'flight plans' (most of which will be along the lines of "I dunno, just thought I'd fly over there for a bit, then maybe look at that tree")?

      The firm got a whiff of bad news when the first reports of terrorists drones were inevitably illustrated with pictures of those familiar white jelly moulds. Not too surprising then that they take steps to avoid any more direct links.

      A bit like the concept of 'smart guns' of course, the problem is that you can make drones smart enough to not get involved in a land war in Asia, but the terrorists will simply build their own dumb drones to use instead. There's no magic solution here. Though it wouldn't hurt to limit the supply of conveniently reliable mass produced ordinances (grenades, land mines) into war zones.

    4. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      Why not ...?

      I know that you're probably just asking rhetorically, but you got me thinking of what sort of algorithms and data structures you'd need to scale up the number of no-fly zones. As the number increases, you obviously hit a practical limit if you do a linear scan on them.

      I reckon quadtrees, possibly with some sort of arithmetic or wavelet encoding of the number of NFZs in each sector.

    5. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      (Seriously, it might be simpler to require drone pilots to submit a flight plan for every flight. Like real pilots do.)

      No they don't. Private pilots flying for leisure don't need to do that for their casual flying. I might do it for a longer trip over Snowdonia, or across the water to LTQ, but never for an hour bumbling about in a PA28. Imagine the bureaucratic cost if it were needed for all flights, it's still not even properly available online.

      It's only required in controlled airspace and or crossing the UK FIR boundary and or flights over 40km for aircraft over 5700kg and or wishing to use ATAS in class F aiispace.

      It's advised for going more than 10nm off the coast, or over sparsely populated areas.

      OK, so I'm not a "real pilot" but still don't need a flight plan for a 1000kg PA28.

    6. applebyJedi

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      you're wrong on that, not all flights require a flight plan, and to file one for a UAV is a stupid argument!

    7. GlenMidlandsUK

      Re: Why Just War Zones?

      (Seriously, it might be simpler to require drone pilots to submit a flight plan for every flight. Like real pilots do.)

      Haha, the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a while. Yeah, that'll stop em :-/

  2. imanidiot Silver badge

    So they just roll their own

    A NAZE32 or similar flightcontroller (Now often comes with built in RC receiver), couple off speed controllers, battery, motors and props can be had from a multitude of chinese sellers for about 50 to 60 dollars total. The frame doesn't have to be anything more complicated than a bit of plywood and 4 sticks. A decent camera gimbal and camera setup with video transmitter will probably set you back 50 to 150 dollars or so if you NEED video. Buy in bulk and you can probably build a whole load of them at 60 bucks a pop. Lot cheaper than buying a load of DJI's and and whole lot less traceable too.

    1. AndyS

      Re: So they just roll their own

      Very true. A basic quadcopter can be made cheaply and, and with none of the geofencing. If you want it a bit more capable (ie with GPS and autonomous flight modes) you are probably looking at a few hundred pounds each.

      However, they could also just disable the geofencing in their existing fleet of phantoms (of which they seem to have a lot).

      However, this move will have disrupted their immediate use, and appears to have been rolled out in a coordinated way, to target their use in Mosul during the drive to take it back. I guess if it worked at all (I wonder how often ISIS updates the firmware on their drones?), it will only work once - next time, they will have geofencing disabled already (if not previously).

    2. Haku
      Facepalm

      Re: So they just roll their own

      Yeah, make them learn how to roll their own flying death weapons!

      That'll teach em...

      1. David 164 Bronze badge

        Re: So they just roll their own

        Hezbollah already build their own drones, capable enough to penetrate deep into Israeli airspace and have done for a few years. So knowledge on how to do this isn't new in terrorists circles.

  3. CraPo

    How will the media...

    capture the beautiful images of all that lovely destruction in Aleppo and other such places?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9CSqWQBpOo

  4. deive

    Could start by stopping the arms companies from selling? A handgrenade is for killing, a consumer drone is just a tool.

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      And lose all that profit?!?

      Meh, if there's anything simpler than making a drone it's making an IED. Heck they can just download TM 31-210 produced by the U.S. Army and might as well grab FM 5-31 on boobytraps just to have the set. In a pinch, they can order it all from Amazon and if they deliver by drone they score a twofer!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Firmware upgrades

    I'm not sure how religiously (bad choice of word...) the operator in these sorts of war-zones will be updating the firmware on their drones...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Firmware upgrades

      We obviously need to increase funding to the Iraqi and Syrian governments to allow them to make the investment in rural broadband which will enable ISIS to get timely firmware upgrades

  6. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    The use of consumer-drone technology to harm anyone is deplorable

    It violates the license and harms sales of our $$$$ ninja-pirate-murderer-predator-killer military drones

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Or they could just use a 3rd party app like Litchi to avoid the geofencing . . .

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      'Or they could just use a 3rd party app like Litchi to avoid the geofencing . .'

      And then, by studying the helpfully supplied list of locations so geofenced by djl as 'No-Fly' zones and comparing them to their current operational zones, find some new targets for their toys...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "[...] Stoke City’s football stadium, [...]"

    Why? Is the club now owned by someone from China?

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Corporate blowoff time

    “The use of consumer-drone technology to harm anyone is deplorable. Any loss of life or injury in such a manner is tragic. Those who carry out such acts should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said the company

    "prosecuted to the full extent of the law" they say. Who's law? Who's going to enforce it? I guess the smell of profit and the corporate mentality float to the top here. Sorry DJI, they comes across as a both a blow-off and BS.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Corporate blowoff time

      That would be the local airport authorities, the FAA, and or other local sky-crime law enforcement agents. And if not available, a guy with a baseball bat or a shotgun will do the trick. Sky-crime is pretty serious, as it involves crimes, and they're done in the sky, hence the term sky-crime. The regular non-flying authorities can only arrest and prosecute crimes done on the ground. That's why we need special Sky-crime Marshals to handle the crimes people commit while sky diving, hang gliding, BASE jumping, flying non-commercial aircraft, floaters, or people who ride really big drones, or flying carpets, and drop things on other people not flying; like grenades, or cupcakes, or rotten eggs, or perfectly good grade A eggs, or a rock, or a Zune music player, or a bag filled with ketchup, or some dead fish, or a live fish. I think you take my meaning. Sky crime. Something must be done.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Corporate blowoff time

        "That would be the local airport authorities, the FAA, and or other local sky-crime law enforcement agents."

        Eh, yeah, Syria's version of the FAA. That's who we want to trust. Or Iraq's local airport authorities. Or "local sky-crime law enforcement agents". If they ever had any. Which they probably didn't. We aren't talking about a highly civilized part of the world here - where people sit down for tea and biscuits every afternoon and chat politely about last night's match.

  10. hellwig Silver badge

    How well is this working?

    I just read a story about how four drones flying around an airport in China shut the place down for a day. I'm guessing they weren't DJI drones. My point being, seems like some other company is going to be seeing orders from suspicious locations very soon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How well is this working?

      Too many geese will also shut down an airport. Airports are finicky that way. Also, Johnny can pull the plug on the runway lights, for a laugh, and that is also a cause for concern. I saw this on Moon News 13 channel 13 on the moon. Oh wait, that was the Moon 13 Moonday Night at the Moovies featuring Airplane and Airplane II: The Sequel.

      [This comment is fake. Pay no attention to it.]

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: How well is this working?

        Canadian geese have downed many more aircraft than the Canadian airforce

        .. They're geese, they do plot, they do scheme and they're organised

  11. John H Woods Silver badge

    Missed opportunity ...

    ... I would have coded the detection not to deny flight but to silently send drone location to the relevant security services when used in these areas

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Missed opportunity ...

      Or if flown too close an airport, they should take over autonomous mode and gently land just inside the airport boundary fence before shutting itself down completely.

      Also, if they quietly maintained a quiet log of GPS co-ordinates for previous flights, they would be easier to trace - when the unboxing and first switch on shows up where the owner lives.

    2. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: Missed opportunity ...

      "silently send drone location to the relevant security services when used in these areas"

      Using what connection?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Missed opportunity ...

        >Using what connection?

        Twitter of course, terrorists are all about the HashTags

  12. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Good.

  13. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Non-obvious Geofenced areas...

    Meaning areas marked as NFZ but for no obvious reason, will no doubt be targeted by people curious to know what the reason is behind a specific restriction. Such researchers will be congratulated on sharing their finds on forums setup to discuss them, defeating the whole object of them.

    I can also envisage some NFZ's being set up as "honeypots". No reason for there to be a NFZ, but any drone flying in that area could be investigated as to how it was able to breach these security features.

  14. the Jim bloke Silver badge
    Angel

    Someone should suggest to the evil clown

    .. that he switch GPS 'selective availability' back on. This was the degradation of the american GPS signal to non military ground receivers, discontinued by Ronald Reagan.

    In his flailing around trying to appear effective, he would probably consider it a good idea to bugger the worlds GPS accuracy.

    Of course, it would not be any use. Professional GPS users use Real Time Kinematic or Post Processing to eliminate satellite errors, and there are now multiple different satellite constellations belonging to nations not under Trumps command.

    The effect would be felt most by non-tech civilian users, relying on their GPS for road navigation, and commercial/agricultural/industrial users who want to keep their machinery inside their paddock or whatever.

    The best thing is it would put him on a collision course with Google..

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Someone should suggest to the evil clown

      I'm almost tempted to activate my dormant Twitter account for this....

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019