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Wed Apr 1, 2015, 08:43 PM

Obama puts 'malicious cyber actors' on notice

President Barack Obama is taking aim at "malicious cyber actors" who attempt to profit from digital attacks on US interests.

An executive order announced Wednesday authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of State and Attorney General to impose sanctions on cyberattackers hacking into the networks of US companies or government agencies.

"Effective incident response requires the ability to increase the costs and reduce the economic benefits from malicious cyber activity," Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, wrote in a statement. "And this means, in addition to our existing tools, we need a capability to deter and impose costs on those responsible for significant harmful cyber activity where it really hurts -- at their bottom line."

The White House aims to make it hard for hackers to profit from stolen information. After identifying the people behind a cyberattack -- which could be an individual, company or even a country -- the US could impose sanctions that would prevent US companies from doing business with them. Individuals would also be banned from traveling to the United States.

"This new executive order is specifically designed to be used to go after the most significant malicious cyber actors we face," Monaco wrote. "It is not a tool that we will use every day."

The executive order comes in the wake of massive attacks that targeted dozens of companies and millions of people across the US. Major hacks reported over the last year include those on retail giant Target -- in which hackers stole credit card data for more than 110 million customers -- as well as on department store Neiman Marcus, restaurant chain P.F. Chang's, crafts-supplies chain Michaels Stores, hardware chain Home Depot, office-supplies chain Staples and insurance provider Anthem.


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