Obama issues cybersecurity executive order to tackle ‘national emergency’

President Barack Obama has issued an executive order allowing sanctions against individuals and groups outside the United States that use cyberattacks to threaten the country’s foreign policy, national security or economic stability, according to Reuters.

The change in law will allow the country to unilaterally lay economic sanctions against cybercriminals, regardless of extradition treaties the US has with their home country. The US State Department and Treasury will be able to freeze bank accounts and financial assets of those under suspicion. Wired believes the order to be “aimed primarily at state-sponsored actors and other hackers who are beyond the reach of law enforcement or diplomatic efforts.”

It’s not just targeting hackers though, as it takes aim at those who use data acquired through attacks. As Michael Daniel, the president’s special advisor on cybersecurity said, “We don’t want to just deter those with their fingers on the keyboard but those who are funding and enabling those groups to carry out their activity. We want to deter those who are paying for it.”

According to ESET security researcher Stephen Cobb, many security professionals will applaud this move to beef up cybercrime deterrence. Cobb says, “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 believes 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.”

Cybersecurity has proven to be amongst the president’s top priorities in 2015, with an increase in security spending, longer sentences for hackers and a crackdown on botnets amongst the measures already announced.

“The Obama administration is really getting serious now. This order brings to bear the economic might of the United States against people who are robbing us blind and putting us in danger,” said Joel Brenner, who was in charge of President George Bush’s counterintelligence service.

The order has been planned for two years, according to The Washington Post. “From now on, we have the power to freeze their assets, make it harder for them to do business with U.S. companies, and limit their ability to profit from their misdeeds,” President Obama said.

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