We can only assume that exporters have been very bad this year because they may find a big lump of coal left in their export reform stocking by jolly old St. Nick or, perhaps more accurately, Good King Wassenaar (to continue torturing this extended metaphor.) The jolly old elves who negotiate the Wassenaar Agreement are meeting in Vienna this week, and according to this Financial Times article, they are likely to impose new controls on cybersecurity hardware and software. When the U.S. implements these changes, it means that some network equipment and software that did not previously require licenses will now require them.

The details of the changes are still not fully known. Obviously, many things could be classified as “cybersecurity” software and/or hardware, so the scope of these controls could be significant. The Financial Times article singles out deep packet inspection as one area of cybersecurity likely to be subject to export controls:

Particularly sensitive areas include so-called “deep package inspection” technologies which allow users to screen data for hidden viruses, malware or surveillance programmes. Western intelligence agencies are particularly concerned about such technologies falling into enemy hands, because they could enable them to foil cyber attacks or gain an intimate understanding of Western screening systems and their fallibilities.

Deep packet inspection is commonly used to refer to network software and hardware that looks beyond the headers of IP packet transiting a network to examine the data payload in the packet. DPI technologies vary in the degree to which the data payload is inspected, particularly given constraints on inline processing as the data streams through the network. Some DPI may look for patterns or signatures indicating viruses or attacks (to block the packet), the type of traffic , e.g., (P2P vs VOIP ( to prioritize the traffic), or even the actual content of unencrypted traffic for censorship or law enforcement purposes. Given that there are varieties of “deep” in Deep Packet Inspection and varieties of purposes to which DPI could be put, a one-size-fits-all license requirement for DPI would certainly seem to be overkill.

But the biggest nightmare will be how these license requirements will seep into the deemed export rules. Any company that employs network engineers (in other words, any company but the Asian Lithuanian Taco and Waffle Truck on the corner) will encounter real difficulties in hiring and managing foreign employees working on their networks. Let’s just hope that these negotiations at Wassenaar fizzle (but I’m not holding my breath).