Tech Allies Lobby to Keep U.S. Rule From Fettering Security Research

By Robert Lemos  |  Posted 2015-09-14 Print this article Print
U.S. Security Rule

Tools for finding software vulnerabilities and the exploits used to prove such vulnerabilities exist would become regulated as munitions.

"It is all about the definition," he said. "There needs to be a differentiator between tools that are defensive and tools that are used for offensive purposes. Even then, there are tools that are offensive in nature, but are used for good."

Moreover, another part of the rule would regulate the communication of information about vulnerabilities and exploits under the argument that knowledge is being exported.

Such "deemed export" rules would require a company to have a license to allow their international research teams to collaborate, even with other company employees. For Synack, which works with researchers in 35 countries, such an export rule would make its business untenable, Kuhr said.

Security firms and technology firms have banded together, creating the Coalition for Responsible Cyber-security, to represent cyber-security professionals in a number of U.S. companies, including Ionic Security, FireEye, Synack, and WhiteHat.

Symantec, also a member, is concerned that any broad rules could add delays to its ability to respond to attacks and aid clients, Cheri F. McGuire, vice president of global government affairs and cyber-security policy with Symantec, stated in an online post.

"While the rule is directed at companies that create or sell 'intrusion software' used to breach systems, its broad language will affect a wide array of legitimate cyber-security research and network penetration testing," she said.

"As a global security company, with researchers based around the world, this regulation could require our American researchers to obtain a government license in order to have more than a cursory conversation about new security vulnerabilities with their co-workers overseas."

Other companies may find themselves in legal jeopardy, if the regulations are not constructed to be very narrow, said Alan Cohn, an advisor of counsel for the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

"To define all software that aims to avoid detection by monitoring tools, as intrusion software, captures not only the types of tools that are intended for undesirable surveillance mechanism, but also tools intended for cyber-security and detection, to the point, that it becomes difficult to discern the nature of the software," he said.

While a narrower rule could allay concerns in the U.S., CRC members do not plan to stop there. Wassenaar signatories meet in December for the next round of rule making and security companies aim to revise the original rule.

"It is not that the policy goal is not laudable—keeping the surveillance tools out of the hands of human-rights abusers—but it is more that," Cohn said.

"Because it was done without any input from industry or academia, it has created the problems that it has. Going back and taking a fresh look at this, now that there is a track record of experience, will hopefully give better results."


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