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I was reading a rather "dated" book on SSL/TLS, which mentions about International Step Up certificates and Microsoft's Server Gated Certificates which were the way arround the US export rules for economic transactions.
Now export rules still exist.
But I always saw that the browsers I have used have requested stronger cipher suites regardless of the server. In wiki it says:

Today, SGC certificates are widely considered to be obsolete as browsers requiring enhanced encryption capabilities are all but extinct, and many parties contend that facilitating the use of older, insecure browsers creates more security concerns than it remedies.[3][4] However, many certificate authorities continue to charge a premium for this kind of certificate. When an SSL handshake takes place, the software (e.g. a web browser) would list the ciphers that it supports. Although the weaker exported browsers would only include weaker ciphers in its SSL handshake, the browser did also contain stronger cryptography algorithms.

I really don't understand this paragraph.
If US export laws still apply (and they do) how can the browsers use stronger crypto algorithms?
What am I missunderstading here?
I always see the browser sending strong ciphers along with weak without the server having a special indication such as SGC

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1 Answer

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Us export laws still apply, but they have been relaxed. Excerpt from the Wikipedia page on Export of Crypto in the US:

Current status

As of 2009... Some restrictions still exist, even for mass market products, particularly with regard to export to "rogue states" and terrorist organizations. Militarized encryption equipment, TEMPEST-approved electronics, custom cryptographic software, and even cryptographic consulting services still require an export license. Furthermore, encryption registration with the BIS is required for the export of "mass market encryption commodities, software and components with encryption exceeding 64 bits". In addition, other items require a one-time review by or notification to BIS prior to export to most countries. For instance, the BIS must be notified before open-source cryptographic software is made publicly available on the Internet, though no review is required.

So while registration with BIS is still necessary for the vendors of encryption products, they can then export software which uses stronger ciphers.

You, as an end user, or server admin, do not need to worry about this!

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As a side note, the export cipher suites are explicitly deprecated in TLS 1.1 and they've been completely removed in TLS 1.2. –  Bruno Apr 19 '12 at 16:54
May be I am missunderstanding Rory answer and @Bruno comment but if for example I have a self signed certificate deployed in Tomcat it does not seem that the browser IE or Firefox uses relaxed cipher suites.Actually the opossite.And I have not registered with BIS or something.Is the browser authorised to do that with any server? –  Jim Apr 19 '12 at 17:13
@Jim, not sure I understand what you're asking. What do you call "relaxed" cipher suites? Modern browsers will almost certainly never use any cipher suite with a symmetric key size under 128 bits (unless explicitly asked to do so perhaps). Most well-configured servers should also disable weak cipher suites. A default Tomcat installation with a not-too-ancient JRE and a self-signed cert (or any non-SCG cert) should use one of the cipher suites enabled by default. –  Bruno Apr 19 '12 at 17:23
@Bruno:Yes, I agree.My confusion is how can this (I mean to be able to use strong encryption both in browser and server configuration) happen if US export rules forbid the servers and browsers to use such strong cryptography without permission.I mean MS and Mozilla etc are US based right?So they are allowed to do that? And with any server?I read that they used to use strong enryption ONLY if the server had a special type of certificate (Step Up or SGG in the extensions).Now they do strong encryption for ALL servers?This part I am not clear –  Jim Apr 19 '12 at 18:11
@Jim, browsers had these technical restrictions to enforce legal restrictions. Following the legal relaxation of these rules (about 12 years) ago, these technical restrictions were also removed. Being able to do something is different from being allowed to do it, but technically you can (and probably may, IANAL) use all the cipher suites without asking permission. As far as I understand, these technical restrictions were removed precisely because they were no longer legally required. –  Bruno Apr 19 '12 at 18:36
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