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April 2, 2015

Obama ‘gives notice’ to hackers as sanctions programme is signed

US tightens noose on foreign hackers with travel and economic penalties.

By CBR Staff Writer

Taking a hard line on foreign hackers who target computer networks used by American government or businesses, president Barrack Obama has authorised a sanctions programme which will impose economic and travel penalties on such individuals or companies.

Obama said that harming critical infrastructure, misappropriating funds, using trade secrets for competitive advantage and disrupting computer networks are the broader areas of triggering penalties.

Companies that knowingly use stolen trade secrets to undermine the U.S. economy would also be targeted.

In an executive order signed yesterday, such activities were termed a "national emergency" and Obama gave free rein to the U.S. Treasury Department to freeze assets and bar other financial transactions of entities or individuals engaged in destructive cyber attacks.

The executive order also empowers Treasury officials to block travel for individual hackers working for themselves, on behalf of hostile countries, criminal organisations or foreign companies.

No specific individuals or companies, however, were targeted for sanctions under the order, officials said.

In a statement Obama said: "We’re giving notice to those who pose significant threats to our security or economy by damaging our critical infrastructure, disrupting or hijacking our computer networks, or stealing the trade secrets of American companies or the personal information of American citizens for profit."

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This comes after a string of cyber attacks from abroad against U.S. targets, including the destruction of computer systems at Sony Pictures last fall and indictments of five Chinese military officers.

However, John Smith, who heads the Treasury Department’s sanctions programs, clarified that the sanctions will not be used as a tool to stifle "innovation" or "free speech."

As cited in the LA Times, Smith was quoted as saying that news organisations that publish information from hacked systems will not be victimised; a case in point being Edward Snowden’s handing classified files copied from the National Security Agency to media.

Obama’s new order has been welcomed by the U.S. lawmakers and security and legal experts, but they also voiced "skepticism," saying the broader scope of the order could result in a "compliance nightmare for companies," reports Reuters.

Industry insiders say Obama’s move could trigger a strong reaction from China, which routinely denies accusations of the "government hand" behind attacks on U.S. companies.

The Obama administration had come under a lot of pressure to tighten the noose on criminal hacking rings which have become increasingly active causing millions of dollars in damage, and also "punish" countries or corporations that benefit from "stolen information."

Major American banks have been infiltrated in the recent past. There have also been instances of millions of patient records being stolen from the health insurance company Anthem, Russian hackers infiltrating U.S. State Department computers, and Iranian hackers shutting down computer systems run by Las Vegas Sands Corp. in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, as cited in PC Mag, Obama also signed another order which facilitates information exchange about cyber threats between the federal government and private companies.

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