WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama issued an executive order Wednesday to combat “malicious cyber-enabled activities” from overseas by authorizing sanctions against individuals who pose a significant threat to the United States.
The order increases the government’s power to address cyberattacks by extending its capabilities beyond sanctioning countries to targeting sanctions at specific attacks and the individuals responsible for them.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, applauded the president’s actions.
“Sanctions have always been a useful tool in the weapons arsenal against those intent on doing us harm, and the cyber battlefield is no different,” the Cockeysville Democrat said in a statement.
Obama declared the prevalence and increasing severity of cyberattacks affecting national security, foreign policy, economic health or financial stability as a national emergency that must be addressed.
The president said in a statement, “I intend to employ the authorities of my office and this Administration, including diplomatic engagement, trade policy tools, and law enforcement mechanisms, to counter the threat posed by malicious cyber actors.”
Those identified as posing a significant threat to the nation could face the freezing of their assets in U.S. jurisdiction or visa bans.
The secretary of the treasury, along with the attorney general and the secretary of state, will be in charge of imposing sanctions on the individuals or entities responsible for cyberattacks.
This executive order comes after a cyberattack on Sony Pictures last November. U.S. intelligence officials identified North Korea as the perpetrator.
In response to the attack, the U.S. government placed sanctions on North Korea and 10 officials it believed were responsible.
Ruppersberger said, “With Sony, we saw the first destructive attack in the United States – where the perpetrator successfully shut down a system. It is only a matter of time before critical infrastructure, such as our grid system or cell phone towers, could come under siege.”
According to Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel, the sanctions are “designed to fill in a gap” to target individuals who are incapable of being reached and held accountable for their malicious attacks.
However, Daniel said, “It’s hard to speculate whether or not we would have used that tool with Sony.”
He added, “Sanctions are not a cure-all, but it is an important tool for us to have.”