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Obama signs order to impose sanctions on foreign hackers

President Barack Obama has signed an executive order that imposes sanctions on foreign hackers that engage in “destructive attacks or commercial espionage” against U.S. targets. The sanctions program, the first one established to combat cyberattacks and cyberspying, will deny attackers access to American infrastructure such as banks and technology services. The White House claims that this would hinder hackers from launching attacks since they would not be able to transfer money to fund their nefarious plans.

“Starting today, 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. 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 wrote in a blog post on Medium.

The order’s focus is on creating financial repercussions for hackers, something that is highlighted by the fact that the Secretary of the Treasury will be handling its implementation. In a press release, the White House defined the activities that would trigger sanctions, which includes “knowingly receiving or using trade secrets” and “misappropriating funds or economic resources.”

With the order comes concern for its misuse, something that authorities are quick to address. Lisa Monaco, the president’s homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, provided assurances that the directive will be aimed only at appropriate targets.

“Law-abiding companies have absolutely nothing to worry about; for them, it’s business as usual. We will never use it to try to silence free expression online or curb Internet freedom. Nor will this authority be used to go after legitimate cybersecurity researchers or innocent victims whose computers are compromised. It is designed to be used in conjunction with our other authorities — including law enforcement and diplomatic efforts — to help deter and disrupt the worst of the cyber threats that we face,” she said.

The directive bears similarities to an executive order that President Obama issued in the wake of the Sony hacking scandal. That directive imposed additional sanctions on North Korea for its  “provocative, destabilizing and repressive actions and policies.”

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