Blue Coat confirms Syria used its Web filtering devices

Following reports, Blue Coat says Syria was indeed censoring the Web with its filtering devices. But the company adds that it doesn't know how the gadgets ended up in Syria despite a trade embargo.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
2 min read
Blue Coat says it doesn't know how its Internet filtering devices ended up in Syria despite a trade embargo.
Blue Coat says it doesn't know how its Internet filtering devices ended up in Syria despite a trade embargo. Blue Coat Systems

Blue Coat Systems has confirmed that its devices were being used by Syria to censor the Web and said it is investigating how they got into that country despite a strict U.S. trade embargo, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

The appliances were "transmitting automatic status messages back to the company" Blue Coat executives told the newspaper.

"Blue Coat says it doesn't monitor where such 'heartbeat' messages originate from," according to the report. "Computer code reviewed by the Journal indicates that Syrians were also using other Blue Coat products, raising questions about how the tools came to be used this way and whether Blue Coat has violated the trade embargo."

Reports began trickling out this summer that the devices were being used by Syria to monitor its citizens' Internet activity in a crackdown on opposition that has left thousands of protesters dead and injured.

Last month, Blue Coat told ZDNet UK that company policy forbade the sale of equipment to the Syrian government.

Fourteen of the Blue Coat devices were shipped to Dubai late last year destined for the Iraq government, and at least 13 of them were found in use in Syria, company executives said.

After analyzing unredacted logs, the Journal found that the devices were blocking or monitoring visits to Web sites and social-networking pages that had information about the Syrian uprising and those run by opposition leaders.

"We don't want our products to be used by the government of Syria or any other country embargoed by the United States," Steve Daheb, Blue Coat senior vice president, told the newspaper. The company is "saddened by the human suffering and loss of human life" in Syria, he said.

A State Department official said U.S. officials are looking into the matter, according to the Journal.