Huawei products should be banned in Australia

telecommunicationsHow the Chinese IT company Huawei is gaining a foothold in Germany

Far Eastern folk music, played by the Munich Brass Connection, then an acrobat lying on her back juggling vases and tables - great atmosphere at the Bavarian-Chinese spring festival in the old Munich congress hall on Theresienwiese. Main sponsor: Huawei from Shenzhen near Hong Kong. Who knows this company that really rolls up the world of telecommunications? Hardly anyone. And when it does, it is often for the wrong reasons, says Walter Haas, Huawei's chief technology officer in Germany:

"Of course, it is always who is not afraid of Google, who is not afraid of the big companies, that is in the nature of people, that is perfectly clear. We are now one of the largest telecommunications and IT equipment suppliers in the world . In Germany, too, our business has developed very, very successfully and everyone is talking about us. "

And how. The Chinese company is a silent giant - currently wherever new lines are being laid. All German wireless service providers are equipping themselves with Huawei products. For example, when building the fast LTE radio network. Up to 50 percent of Huawei is also in the M-Net data superhighway. That means: Chinese technology supplies large parts of Bavaria, from Munich, Augsburg, Nuremberg and Würzburg to Ulm and Gelnhausen in Hesse. The business is run by 1,700 employees across Germany, half of whom are highly qualified in research and development, says Walter Haas:

"Yes, we have a mobile communications operations center in Nuremberg, and in Bamberg, Upper Franconia, customers throughout Central Europe are supplied with technology know-how."

June 2012, the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. A Chinese in his 60s, gray suit, red and white diamond tie, reads a short speech in his mother tongue. He seems highly concentrated, even extremely strained. It is Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the Huawei company. You can feel: the man is not used to being in public. In fact, he has never given an interview at this point:

"We have to benefit humanity and have a positive attitude towards the flood of data. Don't just look at their difficulties. In the next 50 years, societies will change more than in the past 5000 years. All countries are competing with each other: It's about speed To offer education and social togetherness. Without the Internet, this would be impossible. Information technology is developing much faster than security nets. We cannot possibly protect ourselves against the flood of data. We will remain vulnerable. The whole industry is exposed to security risks. "

And this is a problem. Because Ren Zhengfei is considered suspicious. He was an engineer for the Chinese People's Liberation Army before turning into a private entrepreneur from practically nothing and founding Huawei in 1987.

The fear of the spies

In Australia and the USA, technology from China has long been a political issue. Companies like Lenovo, ZTE and even Huawei have little chance of winning public contracts there - they are seen as a security risk, even as a camouflaged spy column of the communist party. At least that's what the US authorities say. They searched the inner workings of Huawei products for evidence for a year and a half - to no avail. Nevertheless, the Americans persist in their allegations. In Australia, the media accuse the Chinese of attempting corruption: they are said to have bribed politicians with a lot of money and expensive gifts in order to free Huawei from a ban on building broadband networks.

How is the mood with us? In November 2013, the Mercator Foundation founded the first German think tank in Berlin to focus exclusively on the phenomenon of China. It is called Merics and is based in an Art Nouveau building in Berlin-Mitte. Marc Szepan heads the economics research group. For Szepan, Huawei is a typical example of how difficult the world is with the new economic power:

"The allegations against Huawei - they are handcuffs of the Chinese government or they are actively spying - I think you have to be very careful whether they are really viable. I think it is true that Chinese companies are suspected disproportionately quickly. And if you then don't communicate much, you very quickly give the impression that there is something to hide. "

What do the Chinese have to hide - are they the hackers?

We meet Michael George. Trained at the BND, Michael George heads the new Cyber ​​Alliance of the Bavarian Office for the Protection of the Constitution. This should advise companies on how they can best protect themselves from attacks.

"So I would like to break it down from the subject of cyber security to the subject of industrial espionage. We are dependent on what the economy calls us in terms of assumptions and suspicions. These are the cases that we can investigate. The fact is that well over 90 percent of the cases come from China. That’s the case. An attack on a government network on a university campus in China, where the Chinese military is housed in a building, has been traced. So the evidence are simply very, very strong. But in the end, with absolute certainty, you always struggle. "

The giant's heart

9,000 kilometers southeast of Munich, in a taxi on the drive through Shenzhen. A visit to Huawei's corporate headquarters may not bring certainty. But at least a feeling for the mysterious company. She has invited German reporters for interviews and viewing. The mirror facades of the office buildings glisten in turquoise. Like all factories in China, the site is fenced - it's a huge park: palm trees, flowers and well-tended lawns as far as the eye can see. A press officer accompanies us: His name is Ni Xiong, is in his early 30s, has a brushed haircut and stylish black glasses. His English is more of an American and of course he speaks it fluently, because this is the lingua franca at Huawei. Consequently, Ni Xiong wants to be addressed by his English name: Kevin:

"The whole campus has been around since 1998, maybe it's a bit old."

The company canteen offers not only Chinese food, but also Western, Indian and Arabic cuisine. Everywhere on the site we encounter non-Chinese, the majority male, between 25 and 40, and from all parts of the world. You can feel: This is a company with 150,000 employees in 140 countries.

We are guided through laboratories in which young engineers test servers for heat, dirt and resistance to cold. Hansen Hu is waiting for us in an exhibition hall. It shows super-thin pink cell phones and a tube in silver and red as thick as a bodybuilder's biceps.

"This is a model of Huawei's submarine cable. We have been building these for five years and have successfully linked Africa with Europe through the Mediterranean. Such a cable can lie up to 8000 meters below the sea surface. "

The demonstration of successful technology continues. Roland Sladek, the press spokesman for the European business, is connected to us in Shenzhen from Zurich via video conference. My colleague Matthias Kamp from Wirtschaftswoche still wants to know - what is it about reports from the state as the real power behind Huawei:

"Is there, as some have written, that customers have benefited from government support for Huawei? These 30 billion were written and named over and over again. "

"First point, there is no state aid for any customers. Huawei has never received state aid and customers do not get any state aid either. This credit line of 30 billion applies. To give customers the opportunity to borrow money at a defined percentage. All competitors do that. As far as this specific example of the 30 billion is concerned, I believe, as far as I know, a single customer in Europe has benefited from it. "

Sladek doesn't say that by the way. In May 2013, EU Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht announced anti-dumping investigations into Chinese telecommunications imports. They undercut the prices of the competition massively.

As the highlight of the visit to Shenzhen, we now meet John Suffolk. As the company's vice president, the Briton is responsible for cyber security. His vita alone is said to help reduce suspicion of the Chinese. Before John Suffolk joined Huawei in 2011, he was head of IT for the British government for seven years. A gray-haired giant with a good pinch of irony.

"We have a model here that we call ABC: don't assume anything, don't believe anyone, check everything. We put out a white paper with a public statement. We have never given any government agency access to our technology, our data, or information we trust. I don't think you can express yourself more clearly. "

And although Suffolk casually says that hardly anyone outside the USA is interested in the continuous fire, you can feel that Suffolk is shooting back:

"I personally worked with the US Congress of Inquiry. They wanted to have all the details about the contracts with our American customers, their networks and so on. It is not up to us to give the US Congress such details They are already addressing our customers. And so it went. Then the report of the congress came out. And we thought: This is not about Huawei at all, but about two superpowers rubbing against each other. Which we didn't realize at the time was: You probably knew what you were doing with American companies. We only found out about that in the last few months. "

John Suffolk says what surprised him most in Snowden's revelations was how extensively private companies were involved.

"Huawei has set up a cyber security testing center in the UK. It belongs to Huawei, it reports to me. But it is controlled by the British secret service GCHQ. We have no access to the operational business. We pay but do not know what they do. We are prohibited from doing that. We are probably the most rummaged and checked company in the world. "

Something similar was also wanted in Germany, says Suffolk. He had talks with politicians and business. Result: a no with reference to the usual procedure. In 2010, Huawei therefore applied for an evaluation by the Federal Office for Information Security, or BSI for short. Huawei also applied for this to the Spanish IT authority at the same time. However, results are exchanged within the EU. The responsible federal office therefore only says about Huawei:

"The certification was carried out in Spain, so the application at the BSI was discontinued and not pursued."

We travel 9,000 kilometers back to the northwest. We want to check our impression of the Chinese IT giant in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Recurity-Labs has rented an office loft in the back of a pre-war tenement building. Your job: Security analyzes of companies that want to protect their routers against attacks. The boss has been a sought-after expert at hacker congresses around the world for years: Felix FX Lindner - maybe in his early or mid-30s, slightly stocky, short blonde hair, black glasses.

"Then at some point I noticed that a lot of people had a bad gut feeling. But nobody really put facts on the table in any way and I heard about some of these on the sidelines: Have you ever looked at the Chinese, hahaha?"

So FX got Lindner routers from Huawei, the largest of the Chinese manufacturers. He has to grin when he tells how quickly he found what he was looking for:

"Well, it took us two whole weeks. First of all, you are primarily looking for software vulnerabilities, these are simply programming errors that you can exploit to gain control over such a device. And the things that we do We looked at it, it was a bit older Huawei equipment, and we found errors that haven't actually happened since the 1990s. It's actually not that unusual, regardless of where the product comes from when a company manufactures products that have never been independently security tested, then they usually look like this: Only when someone says: What's the point, do it right, then the companies start to do something for product safety, because they don't earn any money Money with safe products, but with sold products. From the commercial point of view, whether they are safe is completely irrelevant. "

So far, things are apparently going well: M-Net, the large IT provider in Bavaria, certifies the Chinese:

"M-Net has been working with Huawei for around ten years. This has been successively expanded due to the positive experience during this period. Huawei technology has proven itself particularly with high-speed Internet access."

Deutsche Telekom is much more closed to this. The fact that the Chinese company is involved in its high-speed LTE network can be found in Shenzhen, not in Bonn. Experts like FX Lindner are critical of the relationship with Telekom:

"Almost all large carrier networks where Huawei is installed are also operated by Huawei. That means, for example, in Germany there is a Huawei-Network-Operations-blablabla-GmbH in Bonn, which after all has an annual turnover of 80 million euros Yes, what are they going to do in Bonn? They have a certain carrier who happens to be sitting there. That means: They already have full access, they are already controlling the network. "

In the company museum we marveled at Huawei's deep-sea cable that connects Africa with Europe. So in the worst case, would the lights go out in entire countries? FX Lindner believes: Yes. His extreme scenario: In good times, one hand washes the other, one saves 40 percent costs and more, the other races to the top of the world market. But - what about in bad times? FX Lindner believes that in the event of a crisis, company bosses in a country like China would have little to counter if the military demands access. Could that happen? We ask Michael George again:

"It's difficult. I think Huawei is trying to dominate the market in a similar way to American products. At least I think that's a goal. And a goal in a non-democratic system that also lives through its surveillance, always carries the risk of using this technology against the users. "

And so discussions about individual companies in the Internet age can quickly reach a geopolitical level. Huawei is the first Chinese company to have its own capital office in Berlin, where it employs committed press officers. But even they obviously fail to really open the doors. A permit to visit the 700 scientists at the European research center in Munich? We waited a year for it, ultimately with no result. And so the Chinese shouldn't be surprised. Even in the age of the Internet, trust grows the old way.