President Barack Obama signed an executive order authorizing the government to impose sanctions on individuals or entities that engage in malicious cyber-enabled activities “that create a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.”
“Cyberthreats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges to the United States, and my administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront them,” Obama said in a statement on Wednesday. “As we have seen in recent months, these threats can emanate from a range of sources and target our critical infrastructure, our companies, and our citizens. This executive order offers a targeted tool for countering the most significant cyber threats that we face.”
Under the order, the malicious cyber-enabled activity must have the purpose or effect of significantly harming or compromising critical infrastructure; misappropriating funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain; disrupting the availability of a computer or network of computers (for example, through a denial-of-service attack); and attempting, assisting, or providing material support for any of the above activities.
Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation said in the Washington Post that the program’s effectiveness would depend on its implementation. He described the Obama administration’s policy toward North Korea as “timid incrementalism — of talking a tough game, but not following through on its rhetoric.”
However, James A. Lewis, a cyberpolicy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in the article that the new program could be especially promising in fighting one of the nation’s top cyberthreats: economic espionage by China.
“You have to create a process to change the behavior of people who do cyber-economic espionage,” Lewis told WaPo. “Some of that is to create a way to say it’s not penalty free. This is an effective penalty. So it moves them in the right direction.”