Blue Coat "deep packet inspection" tools used by Syrian secret police and other repressive regimes

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more information on Blue Coat, a US company whose "deep packet inspection" products are being used by the Syrian secret police with reportedly horrific consequences for Syrians who dare to express dissent online. Blue Coat denied knowledge of the products' use in Syria, then changed their tune after incontrovertible evidence surfaced. Now they've told the WSJ that they don't want their products used in Syria because it's illegal to sell technology to Syria.

But what they haven't said is, "We don't want our products used in Syria because they're being used to figure out who to kidnap, torture, and murder."

And they haven't said, "We'll stop selling our products to countries like Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia" -- repressive states (that are legal to sell technology to) where Blue Coat's products are used in the same fashion as in Syria.

In other words, Blue Coat is only concerned about breaking the law, not about helping in human rights violations. Depending on the program, criminal penalties for violating OFAC regulations can range from $50,000 to $10 million with imprisonment ranging from 10 to 30 years for "willful violations."

Given Blue Coat's early denials, we're skeptical that their violation wasn't willful. As Andrew McLaughlin put it in a tweet, "Shame on Blue Coat. Their denials re knowingly assisting Syria censorship don't ring true."

Blue Coat's blatant lack of concern for human rights is alarming. There are far more repressive regimes in the world than there are embargoed countries. Several United States allies, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, are also using Blue Coat systems for censorship and surveillance. But Blue Coat is surely unconcerned; after all, exporting to those countries isn't against the law; it just helps violate the human rights of the people living under those regimes.

Meanwhile, the list of Syrians detained for blogging or other online activities continues to grow.

Blue Coat: Concern for Criminal Penalties, Not Human Rights

See also: Blue Coat, a U.S. tech firm, admits Syria used its products to censor the web during "Arab Spring"


  1. I am not computer savy but how can we get the google search to this article on top of the one for Blue coat investor info. How do we make this Info number the  1 Google search result?

  2. Oh, FFS, Cory…

    Blue Coat denied having products in Syria because, well, they didn’t know they were in Syria. They didn’t sell them to Syria. There is a sizable gray market in export-restricted technologies, and one of their resellers is being shady.

    This is like saying knife manufacturers should be held accountable for stabbings, or even that firearms companies are somehow responsible when someone sells a second-hand gun to a criminal.

    If Blue Coat somehow prevented oppressive regimes from using their product (and who judges what is an oppressive regime?) said regimes would just go to a competitor, or develop their own solution, probably based on open-source tools. In fact, I’m fairly sure Blue Coat is FreeBSD based, lets see the EFF go after FreeBSD for helping Syria too.

    Really, all Blue Coat should be concerned about is the law. They don’t know for sure if the appliances are being used for “evil”. The ONLY thing they can know for sure is that their appliances are being used in Syria, and that’s illegal.

    UPDATE: I RTFA and Blue Coat stuff DOES phone home for licensing and updates. That doesn’t mean the products weren’t registered under phony info or appeared to come from a non-Syrian IP, because the people who illegally use export-controlled gear know these things.. It is very possible Blue Coat had to do some investigation to determine where the Dubai units were really located. And now that they know, if they want to disable them, they can and probably will.

    1. So the “free market” is justification for actively promoting your product as a tool of oppression? And how do you know that BlueCoat didn’t know its products were in Syria? Most technology products have a feature called “autosupport” that contacts the manufacturer when a technical issue occurs–in other words, they do indeed phone home. No one at the company noticed core files being uploaded from .sy domains?

      Also, the thought of bass-ackward autocractic regimes gathering a happy team of open-source devotees to put together homegrown “security” tools is ludicrous if you know anything about open source.

      1. Yep, pretty much.  That’s what they seem to be doing, anyway.

        So, the EFF decided to play the “informed customership” card in the game of the free market and write this up:

        As for repressive regeime getting hackers to build their surveillance and censorship gear for them, I’d think that highy unlikely as such regeimes often look askance at the DIY and hacker communities because they have their own ideas about how things should be done…

  3. I need to do some more zooming in, but the overwhelming majority of faces in the lineup of “us” seem to be those of white European descendants.

  4. @CoyoteDen:disqus , the focus of this article isn’t just that Blue Coat tech is being used to kill and imprison people in Syria and other oppressive nations. It’s that Blue Coat seems unconcerned with whether their technology is used for good or evil, unconcerned that people are being tortured or killed based on the use of their technology. How difficult is it to issue a statement saying that you are appalled that your tech is being used for evil and that you will do everything possible to stop this use now and prevent it in the future?  The company’s apparent placing of profit over human welfare is appalling. They’re not the only US company that does this, but that doesn’t decrease their responsibility for this.

  5. So will we get brand names of every device used by any ‘bad Syrian’ in every way? The car the got them to work? The computer they used when they got there? The country that provided trees for the paper that they wrote nasty things on?

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