industrial espionage

Germany isn’t concerned about spy chips – but it should be

Industrielle Kommunikationsnetzwerke als Basis des Digital Enterprise
Spot the snoop. Source: PR

As Germany inches towards updating its telecoms network to 5G, fresh concerns about security are adding to Berlin’s manifold woes.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that “spy chips” were built into Super Micro servers that were used by Amazon, Apple and the US government. Since then, governments have rushed to take action: The US warned Canada about allowing Huawei, the Chinese IT giant, to take part in 5G auctions. Australia has since excluded Huawei from participating in Canberra’s 5G auctions, citing national security. Other European governments likewise want to ban Chinese network providers.

Huawei is also working with Deutsche Telekom to develop the technology. But Berlin has yet to take a similar stand, insisting it is better to supervise companies rather than ban them. The German Interior Ministry said there aren’t laws in place to exclude or partially exclude a particular provider, nor are any planned, in response to an inquiry from the Green Party.

Worrisome dependency

Some politicians, however, are worried. Nadine Schön, vice-chairwoman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, worries that mobile phone providers in Germany rely predominantly on Huawei for its new 5G technology. She doesn’t want Berlin to depend on others in this sensitive area.

“We’re taking a pragmatic approach to the situation,” said Arne Schönbohm, head of the federal office for IT security, known by its acronym BSI. He said in the network market, there are several companies whose products are used extensively in essential German network infrastructures. “We’re looking at whether companies are able to fulfill the IT security requirements,” Mr. Schönbohm said.

That’s naïve, say cybersecurity experts. “You can’t wholly monitor this kind of technology,” according to Sandro Gaycken, of the Berlin-based European School of Management and Technology. Others say it’s important to assess all technology – from China and beyond. The Germans, like many other governments, aren’t yet ready to do so, but failing to address the problem would leave them open to debilitating cyberattacks.

Deutsche Telekom defended its procedures, saying it has a well-developed security system. A company spokesman said that in particularly sensitive environments, Telekom relies on complex procedures to test parts right down to their individual components. Huawei, meanwhile, said the allegations are unjust, insisting its security standards are high.

Dana Heide covers digital issues for Handelsblatt; Stephan Scheuer heads Handelsblatt’s features desk and spent several years as a correspondent in China for Handelsblatt. Allison Williams, deputy editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Global, adapted this article into English. To contact the authors: heide@handlesblatt.com, scheuer@handelsblatt.com

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