Google hit out at the US Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Industry and Security this week over proposed amendments to trade legislation related to the Wassenaar Arrangement, a multilateral export control agreement, arguing they will negatively impact cybersecurity vulnerability research.
The Wassenaar Arrangement is a voluntary multi-national agreement between 41 countries and intended to control the export of some “dual use” technologies – which includes security technologies – and its power depends on each country passing its own legislation to align its trade laws with the agreement. The US is among the agreement’s members.
As of 2013 software specifically designed or modified to avoid being found by monitoring tools has been included on that list of technologies. And, a recent proposal put forward by the US DoC and BIS to align national legislation with the agreement suggests adding “systems, equipment, components and software specially designed for the generation, operation or delivery of, or communication with, intrusion software include network penetration testing products that use intrusion software to identify vulnerabilities of computers and network-capable devices” to the list of potentially regulated technologies, as well as “technology for the development of intrusion software includes proprietary research on the vulnerabilities and exploitation of computers and network-capable devices.”
Google said the US DoC amendments would effectively force it to issue thousands of export licenses just to be able to research and develop potential security vulnerabilities, as companies like Google depend on a massive global pool of talent (hackers) that experiment with or use many of the same technologies the US proposes to regulate.
“We believe that these proposed rules, as currently written, would have a significant negative impact on the open security research community. They would also hamper our ability to defend ourselves, our users, and make the web safer. It would be a disastrous outcome if an export regulation intended to make people more secure resulted in billions of users across the globe becoming persistently less secure,” explained Neil Martin, export compliance counsel, Google Legal and Tim Willis, hacker philanthropist, Chrome security team in a recent blog post.
“Since Google operates in many different countries, the controls could cover our communications about software vulnerabilities, including: emails, code review systems, bug tracking systems, instant messages – even some in-person conversations! BIS’ own FAQ states that information about a vulnerability, including its causes, wouldn’t be controlled, but we believe that it sometimes actually could be controlled information,” the company said.
Google also said the way the proposed amendment is worded is far too vague and proposed clarifying the DoC-proposed amendments as well as the Wassenaar Arrangement itself.
“The time and effort it takes to uncover bugs is significant, and the marketplace for these vulnerabilities is competitive. That’s why we provide cash rewards for quality security research that identifies problems in our own products or proactive improvements to open-source products. We’ve paid more than $4 million to researchers from all around the world.”
“If we have information about intrusion software, we should be able to share that with our engineers, no matter where they physically sit,” it said.