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Thrill-seeking drone owners and their hackers under threat of jail amid China’s national security fears | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker


“Some people seek thrill and adventure; removing the height restrictions and flying over the limits can sound very tempting,” Luo said.

“It’s not that Beijing has some restrictions; Beijing is all about restrictions. [Drones are] prohibited in the entire urban area of Beijing so you will have to go to [suburbs like] Yanqing or Miyun if you want to fly one.”

Taking video of your friends at the Great Wall does not reflect the requisite criminal intent

James Zimmerman, lawyer in Beijing

However disabling the flight blocks, the courts have ruled, is against the law and punishable with fines, or even jail terms.

One hacker who was arrested in southeast Fujian province in April 2022 was sentenced to six months in prison for “threatening national security and disturbing public order”. He also had 6,850 yuan (US$940) – his gains for unlocking drones for 21 owners – confiscated, according to the People’s Court Daily, an official newspaper of the judiciary.

“Drones are no longer just ‘flying cameras’, but ‘flying intelligent robots’,” the newspaper said of the sentencing. It cited China’s criminal code, which includes a set of complex rules over the use of technologies such as drones.

State broadcaster CCTV said the sentencing of two hackers for “providing programmes to invade computer information systems” in Shanghai four months ago set a precedent. One of the pair was sentenced to seven months in prison and the other was sentenced to five months in detention.

An anti-terrorism regulation by Beijing city to come into effect next January explicitly bans the modification of drones.

A computer engineering professor who lives in Beijing and says he has a drone but rarely uses it, said while some would be discouraged by the penalties, others would still find the thrill too tempting to resist.

Chinese-made drones have built-in tech to prevent attacks on China: source

“Just like VPN, it is clearly prohibited [in China] but people will use it if they want to,” he said, referring to the popular private networks used to access websites censored by the Chinese government.

“People who are very passionate about drones will certainly be tempted and might take the risk, and there are also people who may do that so they can have access to some information, or even for spying,” he said, requesting anonymity.

James Zimmerman, a partner at the Beijing office of American law firm Perkins Coie LLP, called the sentencing “an extreme and overboard” application of the law.

“There is clearly a sense of paranoia that is driven by national security concerns, and no criminal intent to engage in [this] conduct that is a national security violation,” Zimmerman said.

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Drone shot down for disturbing penguin in China

Drone shot down for disturbing penguin in China

He said technically speaking, such behaviours constituted a violation of the law, but most people used drones for recreational or other benign purposes.

“For something to be a crime, there must be criminal intent. If someone used a drone to spy on China, then there is [the] criminal intent. But taking video of your friends at the Great Wall does not reflect the requisite criminal intent,” he said.

Under a national regulation on drones adopted in June, drone owners must register with the government and failing to do so could attract a fine of 20,000 yuan.

Michael Frank, a senior fellow at the Wadhwani Centre for AI and Advanced Technologies under the Washington-based think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said drones were “dual-use technologies” that could be applied in civil use, such as photography and agricultural monitoring, as well as defence.

China expands export controls on drones with military potential

China, which leads drone technology globally, outlined its ambitions in a road map released in August 2022: to encourage innovation, development and application of the technology for businesses, such as in logistics and passenger transport.

In July, Beijing announced it would limit the export of long-range civilian drones, apparently out of concern they might be retooled for military use in the Ukraine war. China’s leading drone maker DJI technology said in April 2022 it was pulling out of Russia and Ukraine to prevent its drones being used in combat.

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