President Obama today announced yet another weapon for the US to fight back against the wave of cyber attacks plaguing US businesses, organizations, and individuals: a new Executive Order authorizing the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the Attorney General and Secretary of State, to institute sanctions against entities behind cybercrime, cyber espionage, and other damaging cyberattacks.
"I’m for the first time authorizing targeted sanctions against individuals or entities whose actions in cyberspace result in significant threats to the national security, foreign policy, economic health or financial stability of the United States," the President wrote today. "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."
The US now has the power to freeze assets of attackers who disrupt US critical infrastructure, or steal trade secrets from US businesses or profit from theft of personal information.
"While we’re focused on the supply side of this problem — those who engage in these acts — we’ll also go after the demand side — those who profit from them. As of today, there’s a new deterrent because I’m also authorizing sanctions against companies that knowingly use stolen trade secrets to undermine our nation’s economic health," Obama wrote.
The EO, while not surprising, was mostly welcomed by the security industry, although questions remain on how the feds will properly identify attackers given the difficulty of attribution.
Stephen Cobb, a security researcher with ESET, says it's a solid move to put the squeeze on attackers. "Many companies in the U.S. are spending a lot of money to improve their IT security and the security awareness of their employees in response to the seemingly relentless tide of cybercrime; but it is clear that these private sector efforts alone will not solve the cybercrime problem," Cobb says. "Coordinated government action, both nationally and internationally, is urgently needed to attack those elements of the global cybercrime infrastructure that only persist due to the complicity of corrupt officials and unscrupulous businesses that turn a blind eye to cybercrime.”
Read President Obama's announcement of the new Executive Order here.