Huawei and ZTE: Many allegations, zero evidence

For years, especially the US has warned of electronics from Huawei and ZTE. However, evidence that Chinese manufacturers are spying on the West has never been released.

The Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE could not be "married", US MEPs claimed as early as October 2012. Rumors of backdoors for China's intelligence agencies, especially in Huawei's network technology, were circulating for years. So the US and its allies' actions against the company have a long history.

The arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada is the pinnacle of the conflict, where economic and security policies mingle.

A review: Alone in the past months

  • the US and Australia urged German decision-makers to refrain from Huawei equipment when building 5G networks,
  • New Zealand's GCSB secret service banned telecom operators in the country from using Huawei's 5G technology,
  • The US Congress and President Donald Trump had decided to banish components from Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese manufacturers from all government agencies and their contractors,
  • Trump had blocked the planned acquisition of chip manufacturer Qualcomm by the Chinese company Broadcom,
  • US providers stopped offering new Huawei smartphones, apparently due to political pressure,
  • Business Week published a sensational report on alleged espionage chips in Chinese server technology, citing US government sources.

However, no one has ever published evidence of secretly installed surveillance technology in Chinese products. The action, especially by the US government, could therefore be largely motivated purely by economic policy: Huawei is one of the most important network equipment suppliers in the world and a direct competitor of similar US companies such as Cisco.

In Germany, mistrust is limited

The network operators in Germany, however, continue to Huawei. The Telekom announced in November on SPIEGEL request, they use the equipment of several manufacturers, including Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco and Huawei, and will be "difficult to afford to exclude high-performance suppliers." All parts would be "extensively tested before use in the context of a Privacy and Security Assessment and their behavior (eg data streams, data processing, etc.) analyzed during operation".

In addition, the company points out that the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution have "no reliable information on the safety-critical properties of components of individual suppliers".

Telefónica Deutschland responded to similar inquiries in a similar way. And BSI President Arne Schönbohm was pleased in November about the opening of Huawei's Security Innovation Lab in Bonn, "which allows a further and deeper technical exchange between Huawei and the BSI."

However, there are distrust, among representatives of the Federal Ministry of the Interior as well as members of the Bundestag as the Green Party politician Konstantin von Notz. He had recently spoken of an at least "potentially existing hazard potential" that the federal government "completely" hide. The consequences for Huawei had not yet.

Only a single backdoor in Huawei network routers has been found so far, it was used about ten years ago. Her code name was Headwater. It was developed and used by the US secret service NSA, which was able to monitor the complete data traffic of a router. Headwater, according to the Snowden documents, was just one part of Huawei's large-scale hacking attack in the US, which spied the Chinese company into the lead.