Obama authorizes sanctions against hackers

U.S. President Barack Obama has signed an executive order authorizing the U.S. government to impose sanctions on people, organizations and governments that partake in “malicious cyber-enabled activities” that harm the country.

“The same technologies that help keep our military strong are used by hackers in China and Russia to target our defense contractors and systems that support our troops,” Obama said in a statement.

The sanctions would target activities that harm critical infrastructure, disrupt computer networks, expose personal information and trade secrets, and entities that profit from information stolen in cyberattacks. The administration will focus on threats from outside the U.S.

The sanctions Obama announced on Wednesday will help prevent and respond to cyberattacks when channels such as working with law enforcement and the private sector or cooperating with nations don’t offer a resolution. In some cases, foreign laws are too weak or governments “either unwilling or unable to crack down on those responsible,” the statement said.

Specific sanctions weren’t mentioned. However, the statement noted that limiting the ability of cybercriminals to transfer funds deposited in a U.S. bank, for example, can limit “their ability to both commit these malicious acts and to profit from them.”

In his remarks, Obama mentioned recent cyberattacks against the U.S., including the December data breach at Sony Pictures that was linked to North Korea. Other industries that have been targeted by cyberattacks of late include retail, banking and health care.

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