Today, President Obama declared a national emergency and signed an executive order empowering the government to impose sanctions against anyone viewed as a cyberthreat to the United States.
This is a rather historic day for our industry, where the importance of information security has evolved from the IT department, to the boardroom, into politics and now, center stage as a critical component to our economy and way of life.
The primary objective of the order is to place sanctions on criminal hackers targeting American infrastructure and businesses from outside the US. The order gives authority to freeze assets and more power to block potential threats from the US. The order not only covers the harming of US infrastructure but also covers the stealing of intellectual property from American companies, as well as committing fraud against citizens, all of which hurt the US economy.
With the plague of retail breaches that continue to hit US-based retailers, it’s critical we look at these instances not just as individual breaches, but as a wholesale attack against our financial system. Many of those involved in these activities are overseas and are able to operate with impunity within borders of countries who shield them from US prosecution. Often times, many of these actors also work within these governments.
We have seen robocallers from outside the US defraud people claiming to be from the IRS, successfully scaring people particularly senior citizens into giving them credit card numbers using VOIP networks. The perpetrators of these acts have been able to get away with it due to available technologies that make it easy to evade detection.
I believe it is the goal of the Obama administration with this order to give the US government more power to go after criminal syndicates and fraudsters overseas.
The challenge, however, will still be attribution—you may be able to identify from what country an attack is routed through, but identifying who is behind the keyboard or phone is a different story altogether.
One of the reasons cyber attacks and technology-enabled fraud have been so prevalent is due to the ease of evading detection and relative anonymity that a number of tools available provide.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama administration looks to enforce this act, and what resources will be applied to implement it.