Wassenaar Restrictions on Speech

[There are broader critiques by Katie Moussouris of HackerOne at “Legally Blind and Deaf – How Computer Crime Laws Silence Helpful Hackers” and Halvar Flake at “Why changes to Wassenaar make oppression and surveillance easier, not harder.” This post addresses the free speech issue.]

During the first crypto wars, cryptography was regulated under the US ITAR regulations as a dual use item, and to export strong crypto (and thus, economically to include it in a generally available commercial or open source product) was effectively impossible.

A principle of our successful work to overcome those restrictions was that code is speech. Thus restrictions on code are restrictions on speech. The legal incoherence of the regulations was brought to an unavoidable crises by Phil Karn, who submitted both the book Applied Cryptography and a floppy disk with the source code from the book for an export license. The book received a license, the disk did not. This was obviously incoherent and Kafka-esque. At the time, American acceptance of incoherent, Kafka-esque rules was in much shorter supply.

Now, the new Wassenaar rules appear to contain restrictions on the export of a different type of code (page 209, category 4, see after the jump). (FX drew attention to this issue in this tweet. [Apparently, I wrote this in Jan, 2014, and forgot to hit post.])

A principle of our work was that code is speech. Thus restrictions on code are restrictions on speech. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.) I put forth several tweets that contain PoC I was able to type from memory, each of which, I believe, in principle, could violate the Wassenaar rules. For example:

  • rlogin -froot $target
  • echo wiz | nc $target 25

It would be nice if someone would file for the paperwork to export them on paper.

In this tweet, I’m not speaking for my employer or yours. I am speaking for poor, tired and hungry cryptographers, yearning to breathe free, and to not live on groundhog day.

Excerpt from the very long PDF:

“Intrusion software”

“Software” specially designed or modified to avoid detection by ‘monitoring tools’, or to defeat ‘protective countermeasures’, of a computer or network- capable device, and performing any of the following:

  1. The extraction of data or information, from a computer or network- capable device, or the modification of system or user data; or
  2. The modification of the standard execution path of a program or process in order to allow the execution of externally provided instructions.


  1. “Intrusion software” does not include any of the following:
    1. Hypervisors, debuggers or Software Reverse Engineering (SRE) tools;
    2. Digital Rights Management (DRM) “software”; or
    3. “Software” designed to be installed by manufacturers, administrators or users, for the purposes of asset tracking or
  2. Network-capable devices include mobile devices and smart meters.

Technical Notes

  1. ‘Monitoring tools’: “software” or hardware devices, that monitor system behaviours or processes running on a device. This includes antivirus (AV) products, end point security products, Personal Security Products (PSP), Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) or firewalls.
  2. ‘Protective countermeasures’: techniques designed to ensure the safe execution of code, such as Data Execution Prevention (DEP), Address Space Layout Randomisation (ASLR) or sandboxing.

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