BERLIN – Germany has urged global telecom vendors interested in bidding for infrastructure projects in the country to submit their technology for official scrutiny, a sign that European concerns about foreign agents using equipment vulnerabilities to snoop on telecommunications isn’t limited to China’s Huawei Technologies Co.
The Federal Office for Information Security, Germany’s cybersecurity watchdog, told The Wall Street Journal it was working with international vendors to foster participation in what it calls “technology verification programs,” including oversight at the vendors’ headquarters, existing development and security facilities, or at dedicated labs around Europe.
The office said it “encourages all vendors to open their technology verification labs in Bonn, Germany,” because of its status as the national cybersecurity and telecommunications hub in Germany. Such labs are expected to be similar to one already operated by Huawei, opened in Bonn last month.
The pressure on vendors – which may include Europe-based Ericsson AB and Nokia Corp., South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co., and Cisco Systems Inc. of the US – to open cybersecurity labs comes as Germany seeks to balance competitive efforts to roll out ultrafast 5G internet connectivity along with growing international concern about potential security risks of telecom equipment.
Revelations in recent years about the US National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance activities in Germany have made Germans suspicious of allies and foes alike when it comes to protecting the country’s industrial secrets and upholding its extensive privacy protection laws.
A senior German government official told the Journal last week that while the US had repeatedly pressed the country to ban Huawei from infrastructure tenders, it had never presented evidence that Huawei’s equipment was compromised.
US officials have met with German counterparts repeatedly and as recently as last week, according to a person familiar with the matter, to discuss worries regarding Chinese-made equipment and the potential for manipulation.
A spokesman for Nokia said that the company had “an excellent relationship with the German government built on decades of good cooperation, and look forward to more of the same in the future.” A spokesman for Ericsson declined to comment. Representatives of Cisco and Samsung did not have an immediate comment.
It was not immediately clear when such labs may be established, or if they would be a requirement for vendors seeking to supply carriers in Germany with equipment for internet connectivity.
The coordination of the technology verification programs reflects a desire by some German officials to expand security vetting on their own as they remain skeptical of US concerns. In meetings between German officials and their US counterparts, Germany has asked for specific evidence to back up American concerns about Huawei, according to people familiar with the matter.
For its part, Huawei began opening security labs in recent years including the one in Bonn and another in the UK, in efforts to assuage Western concerns about its products and subject itself to further scrutiny by foreign governments.
The company has denied its products are a security risk.
Furthermore, Huawei is already an established vendor in Germany, supplying major carriers with equipment and consumer products. Last week, German carrier Deutsche Telekom AG said it would review its procurement process for equipment in light of “the global discussion about the security of network elements from Chinese manufacturers.”
The international efforts to vet equipment security come amid a global race to upgrade to ultrafast 5G internet connectivity, a next generation of technology that experts say could ramp up development in artificial intelligence, self-driving cars, and other applications that could power economies of the future.