Obama approves sanctions against hackers with new executive order

New measure targets people, organizations, and governments

President Obama

President Obama said he remembers, as a child, having a "sense of wonder" about the U.S. space program.

Credit: Pete Souza

President Obama has signed an executive order that authorizes the U.S. government to impose sanctions against those responsible acts of cybercrime, as well as those who helped support it.

According to the E.O., which was posted on Wednesday, the Secretary of the Treasury, Attorney General, and Secretary of State will collaborate on a case-by-case basis to impose sanctions against people, organizations, and governments – targeting acts that cause harm to critical infrastructure, disrupt computer networks, or expose personal information and trade secrets. Anyone who stands to profit by these acts can face sanctions as well.

"Our primary focus will be on cyber threats from overseas. In many cases, diplomatic and law enforcement tools will still be our most effective response. But targeted sanctions, used judiciously, will give us a new and powerful way to go after the worst of the worst," President Obama wrote in a blog post.

The order enables the government with the power to freeze assets (with no prior warning or notice) and make it harder for them to do business in the U.S. The order also covers those working on both the supply side (attackers) and the demand side (anyone who hires, or would profit from the act).

"These sanctions are meant to protect our national security, personal privacy and civil liberties. As such, sanctions will in no way target the unwitting victims of cyberattacks, like people whose computers are hijacked by botnets. Nor does this executive order target the legitimate cybersecurity research community or professionals who help companies improve their cybersecurity," the post explained.

The order is the administration's latest efforts to take a tougher stance on hackers and other malicious actors online, essentially giving the White House the same tools now used to address other threats.

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