In a decision that could set an important precedent in international relations, President Obama signed an executive order allowing the U.S. Treasury to employ the same economic sanction tools currently in use against Iran and Russia in response to cyber attacks that are deemed to threaten U.S. national security or economic stability. The language of the executive order is rather broad in declaring all sorts of cyber attacks to be a “national emergency”, and includes companies that knowingly use stolen trade secrets as potential targets for economic retaliation.China protested the move as an abuse of the U.S.’s dominant position in the global financial system:
“China consistently does not approve of any one country using its domestic law to implement sanctions at every turn against the people or entities in another country,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
Definitively assigning responsibility for most cyber attacks remains a difficult task, of course, so the order may not be implemented right away. But the move is the first concrete step to clearly articulate a strategy for responding to cyber attacks, and the administration clearly hopes it will serve as a deterrent.