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April 2, 2015

Obama Executive Order Creates Cyber-Sanctions Program

Sanctions Include Freezing Assets, Cutting Off Funds of Hackers

By The Official White House Photostream, via Wikimedia Commons.

President Barack Obama has authorized a sanctions program targeting any foreign government, organization or individual that engages in “malicious cyber-enabled” activity that threatens the security of the U.S. or its citizens.

The program, which will be overseen by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, is an effort by the White House to crack down on the ever-increasing number of cyber-attacks against American companies. The sanctions include freezing assets and cutting off access to the banking system to hit hackers where it hurts most, in their wallets.

“Efforts to improve our defenses and response capabilities are essential, but insufficient standing alone. We can and must do more,” reads a statement on the White House’s website.

“In particular, we need to deter malicious cyber-activity and to impose costs in response to the most significant cyber intrusions and attacks, especially when those responsible try to hide behind international boundaries. Effective incident response requires the ability to increase the costs and reduce the economic benefits from malicious cyber activity. And this means, in addition to our existing tools, we need a capability to deter and impose costs on those responsible for significant harmful cyber activity where it really hurts — at their bottom line.”

The president’s executive order complements legislation set to go before Congress later this month: a controversial cyber-security bill that encourages companies to share information about online threats both with other firms and the federal government.

The Cyber-Security Information Sharing Act (CISA), which was approved last month by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), offers protections to companies against lawsuits if they choose to share cyber-security data. The idea behind the bill is, the more companies that share data, the easier it will be for them and the government to defend against the ever-growing threat of data breaches.

The move comes after Target, Home Depot, Sony Pictures Entertainment and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and other major U.S. companies were targeted by hackers last year.

It is widely believed that China and North Korea are behind many such attacks as well as those against government institutions and U.S. defense contractors.

As the White House pointed out in its statement, the executive order is “designed to be used to go after the most significant malicious cyber actors” the U.S. faces — meaning hostile foreign governments who are funding hackers.

“This much is clear: Our ability to connect reliably and communicate freely online is a bedrock of U.S. companies’ innovation and our global economic competitiveness,” the White House said. “That is why strengthening U.S. cyber-security is and will remain a defining challenge of the 21st century, and why we will continue to take action to protect our companies and our citizens from the greatest threats we face — online and off. The Executive Order signed by President Obama today provides one more tool to do so.”


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.