The German government plans to ban mobile operators from installing certain control elements from Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE in their 5-G networks. This ban is also to affect components that have already been installed by the providers. The justification for the ban is based on concerns about dependence on foreign products and the security of German mobile networks.
Background and consequences
Concerns about the security of German mobile communications networks are not new. For months now, the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the Federal Ministry of the Interior have been examining whether components in the equipment of the 5-G network could endanger German security. Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE are considered important suppliers for the expansion of the 5-G network, which is why the ban will have far-reaching consequences for mobile operators. In other countries such as the USA and the UK, the use of Huawei components has already been banned.
Technical review without result
Although there are no concrete indications of backdoors or espionage by Chinese components, security authorities are primarily concerned about possible dependence on foreign products. The examination by the BSI and the Ministry of the Interior is therefore not only of a technical nature, but should also be evaluated politically. A foreign power could exert influence on the mobile network through political pressure on Germany by shutting down components or no longer supplying spare parts.
Authorization requirement for critical IT infrastructures
The IT Security Act 2.0 expanded the BSI’s powers and introduced a new Section 9b in the BSI Act. Since September 2021, technical components for critical IT infrastructures must be approved by the BSI and the Ministry of the Interior before they can be deployed. If it is to be feared that public order or the security of the Federal Republic could be endangered by the use of the respective components, their use can be prohibited.
The ban on Huawei and ZTE components in the 5-G mobile network is a further step toward sealing off German IT infrastructures from foreign products. While concerns about dependency in relation to China and about the security of German mobile networks are justified, there is no concrete evidence of espionage. The review by the BSI and the Ministry of the Interior is intended to ensure that only components that do not pose a threat to public order or the security of the Federal Republic are used. It remains to be seen whether and how Huawei will react legally and as a company.