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Regulators seek to limit security software exports

Maria Korolov | July 20, 2015
The rules, as written, would severely restrict international sales, deployment, research and even discussion of cybersecurity tools and exploits, experts say.

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The comment period on a proposed set of software export restrictions ends this Monday, and the rules, as written, would severely restrict international sales, deployment, research and even discussion of cybersecurity tools and exploits, experts say.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Symantec, and many other organizations are concerned about the effect of the new regulations on companies that use or provide penetration testing or network monitoring tools, as well as on security research in general.

"We think it's a terrible idea," said Cindy Cohn, executive director at Electronic Frontier Foundation. "They're going to hear from us, and they're going to hear from a whole lot of other people."

The rules could also hurt the U.S. economically, she said.

"People want to protect their trade secrets, their communications, their assets," she said. "If American companies aren't in the lead offering that security, they're going to lose out in the market."

The U.S. has already gone through the same discussion as it pertains to strong encryption, said John Pescatore, director of emerging trends at SANS Institute.

"The same is true for zero day flaws and penetration testing tools," he said. "Export controls will make it harder for U.S. security vendors to compete in a global cybersecurity market, and will have zero impact for all those finding and selling vulnerabilities outside the US."

Take, for example, Symantec. The new regulations could mean thousands of new license applications for Symantec alone, said Cheri McGuire, the company's vice president for global government affairs and cybersecurity policy.

Meanwhile, technology changes almost daily, and threats have to be addressed on a real-time basis, she said. "Symantec operates in a very dynamic, and technically challenging business."

According to Alan Cohn, cybersecurity attorney in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, the Bureau of Industry and Security -- the part of the U.S. Department of Commerce responsible for these controls -- reports that it takes, on average, 26 days to process a request for an export license.

"Given the vast number of cybersecurity tools and products potentially covered by the proposed rule, it's possible that wait times could become far longer as a result of the rule," he said.

And any delay at all in getting security tools to customers could be problematic.

"Cybersecurity threats are timed in minutes or hours," said Kevin King, an attorney specializing in export regulations at the Washington office of Cooley LLP.

Customers often decide to purchase security tools right after they've had a bad security scare, said Pat Clawson, CEO at Blancco Technology Group.

"You can bet they're not going to want to wait for an export permit to be able to get malware software," he said. "People are inherently impatient and fearful -- they'll go looking elsewhere for companies that can help protect their data."


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