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US to rethink hacker tool export rules after mass freakout in security land

Second draft of Wassenaar to take public comments under advisory

Proposed changes to the US government's export controls on hacking tools will likely be scaled back following widespread criticism from the infosec community, a government spokesman has said.

"A second iteration of this regulation will be promulgated," a spokesman for the US Department of Commerce told Reuters, "and you can infer from that that the first one will be withdrawn."

The proposed restrictions are required by the Wassenaar Arrangement, a 41-nation pact that first came into effect in 1996 and which calls for limits on trade of "dual-use goods," meaning items that have both civilian and military applications.

In 2013, the list of goods governed under the Arrangement was amended to include technologies used for testing, penetrating, and exploiting vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks.

Each company participating in the Arrangement is responsible for implementing the required export controls as it sees fit, but the rules proposed by the US were more sweeping than those put forth by other countries.

Security experts have complained that the language of the new rules, which the Commerce Department has made available for public comment since May, is overly broad and could have a chilling effect on the entire information security industry.

Because the rules would make it unlawful to export hacking tools outside of their country of origin, researchers worry that they will no longer have access to the tools they use to spot vulnerabilities in software and networks.

Just as bad, researchers fear that when they do discover security flaws, the proposed Wassenaar rules might even make it impossible for them to present their findings at security conferences, because even uploading their code to a foreign server would be illegal.

The Commerce Department spokesman, who declined to give his name, told Reuters that the decision to produce a second draft of the proposed rules was the direct result of feedback obtained during the public comment period, which yielded hundreds of comments.

"All of those comments will be carefully reviewed and distilled, and the authorities will determine how the regulations should be changed," the spokesman said.

No timeline for the next round of the process was given. ®

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