Numerous allegations, no evidence

Tuesday December 4 2018

By Patrick Beuth

For years, many countries, especially the US, have warned of electronics from Huawei and ZTE. However, no evidence that Chinese manufacturers are spying on the West has ever been provided.

Huawei and ZTE "cannot be trusted", was the claim by members of US Congress as early as October 2012. Rumors that Chinese intelligence services had implanted backdoors into Huawei's network products have been circulating for years. Therefore, the actions taken against the company are the result of long-term plans.

The arrest of Huawei's Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wanzhou, in Canada marks the pinnacle of this conflict, where economic and security issues have become intertwined.
Review: Alone throughout the past months

• The US and Australia have urged German policymakers to exclude Huawei equipment from 5G networks;
• New Zealand's intelligence service, GCSB, has banned telecommunications providers in the country from using Huawei's 5G technology;
• US Congress and President Donald Trump have decided to ban all government agencies and their contractors from using components produced by Huawei, ZTE, and other Chinese manufacturers;
• Trump blocked the planned acquisition of chipmaker Qualcomm by the Chinese company Broadcom;
• US providers have stopped offering Huawei smartphones, apparently due to political pressure;
• Businessweek released a sensational report on alleged "spy chips" installed in Chinese servers, citing US government sources.

Despite all of the accusations, no evidence has ever been released to prove the existence of any such surveillance technology being secretly used in Chinese products. The actions taken, especially by the US government, could therefore be motivated purely by economic interests: Huawei is one of the world's most important network equipment suppliers and poses direct competition to US counterparts, such as Cisco.

In Germany, suspicions are limited

Network operators in Germany, however, have been on Huawei's side. Deutsche Telekom responded to an inquiry from Der Spiegel in November, explaining that they use equipment from various manufacturers, including Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco and Huawei, and stating that they cannot "afford to exclude high-performance suppliers". Deutsche Telekom went on to explain that all components are "extensively tested before use, in accordance with the privacy and security assessment framework, and the behavior of such components (such as data streams, data processing, etc.) is analyzed constantly".

In addition, the company pointed out that the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution have "no reliable information that there were any issues with the critical security features of components from any individual suppliers".
Telefónica Deutschland responded similarly to comparable inquiries. In addition, BSI President, Arne Schönbohm, said in November at the opening ceremony of Huawei's Security Innovation Lab in Bonn that "the lab allows a deeper technical exchange between Huawei and BSI".

However, mistrust remains among representatives of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as well as members of the Bundestag, such as Green Party politician Konstantin von Notz. Notz has recently spoken of there being, at least, "potentially existing hazards" that the federal government has "completely" hidden. The impacts this may have on Huawei are not yet clear.

Only a single backdoor in Huawei network routers has ever been found. The backdoor, named Headwater, was implanted about ten years ago. It was developed and used by the US intelligence service, the NSA, to allow the NSA to monitor all the data traffic of routers. Headwater, according to Snowden's documents, was only a small part of the US's large-scale efforts to hack into Huawei, spying on the Chinese company from the bottom all the way up to the very highest executives.