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Huawei can work on German 5G networks: Here’s why critics say that’s a very bad idea

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EU asks all member states to carry risk assessment of 5G networks
Europe wants tighter security around 5G networks. But if the US was hoping for a ban on Huawei, it will be disappointed.

Newly released draft rules for network security in Germany, which indicate that the German government is prepared to accept Huawei as a supplier for the country’s 5G networks, are causing major controversy.

Local politicians are calling on parliament to take back control of the vetting process and overturn the new rules, while experts believe the rules could deepen technological divisions between European member states and worsen an increasingly cool trans-Atlantic relationship.

“A question of such strategic meaning should not be being decided at the administrative level,” complained Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. 

To protect Germany’s critical infrastructure, he has suggested that parliament should debate measures that go beyond these new draft rules.

The rules – the so-called ‘security catalog’ – were released on Tuesday by two agencies, the Federal Office for Information Security and the Federal Network Agency and will now undergo a short consultative process. They could be in effect by the end of the year or early next year.

“The big question right now is whether we will stick with this process, where critical decisions on national security and industrial policy are being outsourced to two minor [German government] agencies,” Thorsten Benner, director of the Berlin-based thinktank, the Global Public Policy Institute, told ZDNet. 

Benner earlier described the draft as a “catastrophic failure” and believes that nothing much will change during the consultative process if parliament doesn’t step in.  

The publication of the security catalog confirmed leaks from a day earlier that Chinese network supplier, Huawei, would not be excluded from taking part in the construction of Germany’s next generation of network technology.

Although they have never been definitively confirmed and Huawei denies them, there are suspicions that the telecommunications giant is too close to the Chinese government. 

This much-discussed relationship has led to concerns that if Huawei plays a key part in establishing essential aspects in a national network, then sensitive information could end up being passed to the Chinese government, or critical communications infrastructure could potentially be sabotaged during international conflicts.

After warnings from the US that Germany’s ongoing use of Huawei technology would endanger trans-Atlantic information sharing, observers had expected a clause in the new security catalog to effectively ban the Chinese company from the country’s 5G infrastructure.

But, as German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported earlier this week after seeing a leaked version of the draft rules, the clause was removed, apparently thanks to intervention from chancellor Angela Merkel’s office. 

According to insiders, the German chancellor herself defended the removal of the clause on Tuesday during a private meeting of her own party. The argument is that, instead of simply excluding Huawei, there should be stricter standards for all potential providers.

“The primary motive for chancellor Merkel to push for opening the door to Huawei is fear of retribution, that they [the Chinese] would retaliate against German tech providers in China,” Benner says. “Major German companies – VW, Siemens, BMW – are very dependent on the Chinese market. I think that’s the concern in the chancellery.”

The draft rules now say any company taking part in the construction of Germany’s 5G networks will only have to sign a contract guaranteeing they won’t take part in espionage or build so-called back doors into their software. 

“A violation of the self-declaration by manufacturers or providers could lead to considerable security breaches,” the catalog’s writers concede.

This contract is simply a more elaborate version of a no-spy clause that already existed for public procurement of some IT systems, Jan-Peter Kleinhans, a 5G networks expert at the thinktank, Stiftung für Neue Verwantwortung, or the Foundation for New Responsibility, pointed out. 

“There is no language on sanctions or repercussions in the security catalog, or anything about how [violations] would be evaluated or monitored. It’s purely a ‘please trust me’ statement from the vendor,” he says.

The draft rules also say networks must avoid a “monoculture” by any one company. In certain vital parts of network infrastructure, products from at least two different companies must be used. And products from any single company may only make up a maximum of two-thirds of the infrastructure.

In many ways, the new rules are appropriate, Kleinhans told ZDNet. From an IT security perspective, there are two main kinds of threats, he explained: attackers who exploit software vulnerabilities and attackers who exploit legitimate access.

 “Out in the field, the bigger issue is software vulnerability because of the complexity of networks,” Kleinhans says.

A smaller risk is presented by the vendor of equipment, who has access to the equipment to, say, repair it or update firmware. But few network operators keep a careful eye on vendors as they do this, he cautioned.

“On the whole, this [the new security catalog] is politically agnostic and offers the right answer to technological challenges brought about by software vulnerability,” Kleinhans argued. “But it does not address the geopolitical aspects at all.”

Kleinhans suspects that the decision was deliberately been pushed onto the smaller and mostly technocratic government agencies so that the German government could avoid the political ramifications of banning major Chinese companies from its 5G networks. 

Benner believes that bureaucrats at the agencies may even have welcomed being asked to make this decision because, if the security catalog is approved, they will get more funding and gain in importance.

For all Germany’s talk of the importance of European digital sovereignty and European tech champions, allowing Huawei and ZTE access could also disadvantage their main competitors, the Finnish and Swedish companies, Nokia and Ericsson.

A spokesperson from Deutsche Telekom told ZDNet that it currently has a multi-vendor strategy and are using Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco and Huawei. 

“Given the ongoing expert discussion, Telekom is currently reappraising its procurement strategy,” the spokesperson said. “There have been no firm decisions made which manufacturers we will use to build the 5G network.”

The Stiftung für Neue Verwantwortung’s Kleinhans says there has been so much consolidation in the telco sector, that there are only four vendors left worldwide.

There are multiple reasons for this, he says, including bad management and bad luck. But the Chinese success is also due to state subsidies and the kind of government support that other international companies haven’t had. 

“And in a few years, there’s a real chance we won’t have Nokia and Ericsson anymore,” he warns.

Benner is blunter: “In a situation where, for once, Europe has the right technology – in the form of Nokia and Ericsson – Germany decides to open the door to high-risk providers instead. It’s absurd.” 

This move not only undermines European digital sovereignty, it also endangers European unity on the subject, Benner continues. Approaches toward “high-risk providers” in other countries, such as the UK, France and Poland, already differ markedly from Germany’s, Benner continues. 

A European Commission cybersecurity risk assessment on this subject came out last week – Benner calls it “bad timing for Germany” – and it too emphasized the risk of too much reliance on single suppliers and “threat actors” from non-EU states.

“It’s also important to understand this is not just a hobby horse for the Trump administration,” Benner says of the trans-Atlantic differences on this subject. “Concerns about critical infrastructure are shared by key Republicans and Democrats in the US, too.”



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Key Criteria for Evaluating Security Information and Event Management Solutions (SIEM)

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Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions consolidate multiple security data streams under a single roof. Initially, SIEM supported early detection of cyberattacks and data breaches by collecting and correlating security event logs. Over time, it evolved into sophisticated systems capable of ingesting huge volumes of data from disparate sources, analyzing data in real time, and gathering additional context from threat intelligence feeds and new sources of security-related data. Next-generation SIEM solutions deliver tight integrations with other security products, advanced analytics, and semi-autonomous incident response.

SIEM solutions can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or a mix of the two. Deployment models must be weighed with regard to the environments the SIEM solution will protect. With more and more digital infrastructure and services becoming mission critical to every enterprise, SIEMs must handle higher volumes of data. Vendors and customers are increasingly focused on cloud-based solutions, whether SaaS or cloud-hosted models, for their scalability and flexibility.

The latest developments for SIEM solutions include machine learning capabilities for incident detection, advanced analytics features that include user behavior analytics (UBA), and integrations with other security solutions, such as security orchestration automation and response (SOAR) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) systems. Even though additional capabilities within the SIEM environment are a natural progression, customers are finding it even more difficult to deploy, customize, and operate SIEM solutions.

Other improvements include better user experience and lower time-to-value for new deployments. To achieve this, vendors are working on:

  • Streamlining data onboarding
  • Preloading customizable content—use cases, rulesets, and playbooks
  • Standardizing data formats and labels
  • Mapping incident alerts to common frameworks, such as the MITRE ATT&CK framework

Vendors and service providers are also expanding their offerings beyond managed SIEM solutions to à la carte services, such as content development services and threat hunting-as-a-service.

There is no one-size-fits-all SIEM solution. Each organization will have to evaluate its own requirements and resource constraints to find the right solution. Organizations will weigh factors such as deployment models or integrations with existing applications and security solutions. However, the main decision factor for most customers will revolve around usability, affordability, and return on investment. Fortunately, a wide range of solutions available in the market can almost guarantee a good fit for every customer.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Key Criteria for Evaluating Secure Service Access

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Since the inception of large-scale computing, enterprises, organizations, and service providers have protected their digital assets by securing the perimeter of their on-premises data centers. With the advent of cloud computing, the perimeter has dissolved, but—in most cases—the legacy approach to security hasn not. Many corporations still manage the expanded enterprise and remote workforce as an extension of the old headquarters office/branch model serviced by LANs and WANs.

Bolting new security products onto their aging networks increased costs and complexity exponentially, while at the same time severely limiting their ability to meet regulatory compliance mandates, scale elastically, or secure the threat surface of the new any place/any user/any device perimeter.

The result? Patchwork security ill-suited to the demands of the post-COVID distributed enterprise.

Converging networking and security, secure service access (SSA) represents a significant shift in the way organizations consume network security, enabling them to replace multiple security vendors with a single, integrated platform offering full interoperability and end-to-end redundancy. Encompassing secure access service edge (SASE), zero-trust network access (ZTNA), and extended detection and response (XDR), SSA shifts the focus of security consumption from being either data center or edge-centric to being ubiquitous, with an emphasis on securing services irrespective of user identity or resources accessed.

This GigaOm Key Criteria report outlines critical criteria and evaluation metrics for selecting an SSA solution. The corresponding GigaOm Radar Report provides an overview of notable SSA vendors and their offerings available today. Together, these reports are designed to help educate decision-makers, making them aware of various approaches and vendors that are meeting the challenges of the distributed enterprise in the post-pandemic era.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Solution Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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Security

Key Criteria for Evaluating Edge Platforms

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Edge platforms leverage distributed infrastructure to deliver content, computing, and security closer to end devices, offloading networks and improving performance. We define edge platforms as the solutions capable of providing end users with millisecond access to processing power, media files, storage, secure connectivity, and related “cloud-like” services.

The key benefit of edge platforms is bringing websites, applications, media, security, and a multitude of virtual infrastructures and services closer to end devices compared to public or private cloud locations.

The need for content proximity started to become more evident in the early 2000s as the web evolved from a read-only service to a read-write experience, and users worldwide began both consuming and creating content. Today, this is even more important, as live and on-demand video streaming at very high resolutions cannot be sustained from a single central location. Content delivery networks (CDNs) helped host these types of media at the edge, and the associated network optimization methods allowed them to provide these new demanding services.

As we moved into the early 2010s, we experienced the rapid cloudification of traditional infrastructure. Roughly speaking, cloud computing takes a server from a user’s office, puts it in a faraway data center, and allows it to be used across the internet. Cloud providers manage the underlying hardware and provide it as a service, allowing users to provision their own virtual infrastructure. There are many operational benefits, but at least one unavoidable downside: the increase in latency. This is especially true in this dawning age of distributed enterprises for which there is not just a single office to optimize. Instead, “the office” is now anywhere and everywhere employees happen to be.

Even so, this centralized, cloud-based compute methodology works very well for most enterprise applications, as long as there is no critical sensitivity to delay. But what about use cases that cannot tolerate latency? Think industrial monitoring and control, real-time machine learning, autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and gaming. If a cloud data center is a few hundred or even thousands of miles away, the physical limitations of sending an optical or electrical pulse through a cable mean there are no options to lower the latency. The answer to this is leveraging a distributed infrastructure model, which has traditionally been used by content delivery networks.

As CDNs have brought the internet’s content closer to everyone, CDN providers have positioned themselves in the unique space of owning much of the infrastructure required to bring computing and security closer to users and end devices. With servers close to the topological edge of the network, CDN providers can offer processing power and other “cloud-like” services to end devices with only a few milliseconds latency.

While CDN operators are in the right place at the right time to develop edge platforms, we’ve observed a total of four types of vendors that have been building out relevant—and potentially competing—edge infrastructure. These include traditional CDNs, hyperscale cloud providers, telecommunications companies, and new dedicated edge platform operators, purpose-built for this emerging requirement.

How to Read this Report

This GigaOm report is one of a series of documents that helps IT organizations assess competing solutions in the context of well-defined features and criteria. For a fuller understanding consider reviewing the following reports:

Key Criteria report: A detailed market sector analysis that assesses the impact that key product features and criteria have on top-line solution characteristics—such as scalability, performance, and TCO—that drive purchase decisions.

GigaOm Radar report: A forward-looking analysis that plots the relative value and progression of vendor solutions along multiple axes based on strategy and execution. The Radar report includes a breakdown of each vendor’s offering in the sector.

Vendor Profile: An in-depth vendor analysis that builds on the framework developed in the Key Criteria and Radar reports to assess a company’s engagement within a technology sector. This analysis includes forward-looking guidance around both strategy and product.

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