The Commerce Department on Wednesday announced a new rule aimed at stemming the export or resale of hacking tools to China and Russia and other countries with "authoritarian" practices.
The agency’s Bureau of Industry and Security issued a 65-page interim final rule establishing controls on the export, reexport, or transfer of certain cybersecurity items, requiring a license to ship these products to any countries posing a national security or weapons of mass destruction risk — including China and Russia and other nations "of concern."
"The United States Government opposes the misuse of technology to abuse human rights or conduct other malicious cyber activities, and these new rules will help ensure that U.S. companies are not fueling authoritarian practices," the Commerce Department said in a statement.
A license would be required for sales to foreign governments that are categorized as "countries of national security or weapons of mass destruction concern," or which are already subject to an arms embargo, Reuters reported.
U.S. companies were already required to seek a license from the federal government when selling sensitive encryption technologies or communication interception systems abroad, the news agency noted.
"These items warrant controls because these tools could be used for surveillance, espionage, or other actions that disrupt, deny or degrade the network or devices on it," a summary of the new rules to be published in the Federal Register state.
Those restricted from using these products, which include surveillance tools, would include governments posing a threat or subject to arms embargoes, and those who intend to use the products in a way that would compromise information systems without the owner’s permission.
"These items warrant controls because these tools could be used for surveillance, espionage, or other actions that disrupt, deny or degrade the network or devices on it," the rule reads.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the rule was intended to protect human rights.
"The United States is committed to working with our multilateral partners to deter the spread of certain technologies that can be used for malicious activities that threaten cybersecurity and human rights," Raimondo said in a statement, The Hill reported.
"The Commerce Department’s interim final rule imposing export controls on certain cybersecurity items is an appropriately tailored approach that protects America’s national security against malicious cyber actors while ensuring legitimate cybersecurity activities."
Public comments will be collected for the next 45 days, with the rule to go into effect in 90 days.
The rule comes as concerns grow about the use of hacking tools by foreign governments for surveillance purposes.
Apple last month released emergency updates for many of its products following the discovery of a vulnerability that allowed Israeli company NSO Group to infect Apple products with spyware, The Hill reported.
The vulnerability was discovered when Citizen Lab was investigating a phone used by a Saudi Arabian activist that had been infected with NSO Group spyware.
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