Dr. Dobb's is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Channels ▼


Beware Open Source Encryption

There's nothing like an official letter from the U.S. Department of Commerce's munitions control office to make you choke on your morning coffee. At least that was my response upon receiving such a notice a few years ago. It turns out we were (and still are) exporting "Dr. Dobb's Essential Books of Cryptography and Security" CD-ROM which provides the full text of articles and books -- as well as source code -- about encryption algorithms and protocols.

We'd been exporting "munitions" without a license -- that is, munitions that consisted of source code implementations of cryptography algorithms.

The solution was simple: I filled out some paperwork, wrote a $250 check, and Dr. Dobb's became a legally sanctioned munitions exporter.

Since then, the Department of Commerce, which administers munitions exports, has made some changes, forming the Bureau of Industry and Security to deal with the likes of Dr. Dobb's and acknowledging the concept of both open source software and the Internet. Now, organizations and individuals are required to notify the Bureau before making open source cryptographic software public on the Internet.

Still, open source cryptographic software can be a time bomb for companies using open source. A recent search of the Black Duck KnowledgeBase revealed more than 4,000 projects that include encryption algorithms strong enough to require a license if the code is exported, while another 3,900 projects might require an export license.

Which crypto algorithms are popping up most often in open source? The usual suspects lead the list -- RSA, DES, MD5, SHA, Blowfish, Diffie-Hellman, ElGamal, and AES. As far as the government is concerned, if your company exports software that includes implementation in source code of even a single strong encryption algorithm, then you must get a license, no matter who wrote the software or when it was written. Violators of encryption export controls can be subject to fines and imprisonment. Open source is here to stay and increasingly central to the IT landscape, and for good reason. However, that doesn't mean caution isn't in order, especially when security is involved.

Related Reading

More Insights

Currently we allow the following HTML tags in comments:

Single tags

These tags can be used alone and don't need an ending tag.

<br> Defines a single line break

<hr> Defines a horizontal line

Matching tags

These require an ending tag - e.g. <i>italic text</i>

<a> Defines an anchor

<b> Defines bold text

<big> Defines big text

<blockquote> Defines a long quotation

<caption> Defines a table caption

<cite> Defines a citation

<code> Defines computer code text

<em> Defines emphasized text

<fieldset> Defines a border around elements in a form

<h1> This is heading 1

<h2> This is heading 2

<h3> This is heading 3

<h4> This is heading 4

<h5> This is heading 5

<h6> This is heading 6

<i> Defines italic text

<p> Defines a paragraph

<pre> Defines preformatted text

<q> Defines a short quotation

<samp> Defines sample computer code text

<small> Defines small text

<span> Defines a section in a document

<s> Defines strikethrough text

<strike> Defines strikethrough text

<strong> Defines strong text

<sub> Defines subscripted text

<sup> Defines superscripted text

<u> Defines underlined text

Dr. Dobb's encourages readers to engage in spirited, healthy debate, including taking us to task. However, Dr. Dobb's moderates all comments posted to our site, and reserves the right to modify or remove any content that it determines to be derogatory, offensive, inflammatory, vulgar, irrelevant/off-topic, racist or obvious marketing or spam. Dr. Dobb's further reserves the right to disable the profile of any commenter participating in said activities.

Disqus Tips To upload an avatar photo, first complete your Disqus profile. | View the list of supported HTML tags you can use to style comments. | Please read our commenting policy.