President Obama notified Congress and the Federal Register that he is renewing Executive Order 13694 for one year, which allows the U.S. government to impose sanctions on foreign entities that engage in malicious cyber activities and create a significant threat to the United States.
Originally declared on April 1, 2015, order 13694 authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and Attorney General, to impose sanctions on entities and individuals outside the U.S. when their cyber activities are likely to or have materially contributed to a significant threat to the United States.
Obama prompted the order after declaring the increasing severity of cyber attacks from outside the U.S. a national emergency. Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless the President notifies Congress and publishes in the Federal Register a notice that the emergency continues to be in effect past the anniversary date.
“Significant malicious cyber-enabled activities originating from, or directed by persons located, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” Obama said in the statement to leaders in the House and the Senate.
This renewal comes after the Justice Department indicted seven Iranians the week of March 21 who were working on behalf of the Iranian government for a set of cyber crimes attacking almost 50 institutions in the U.S. financial sector between 2011 and 2013.
Noted as distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks, “the repeated, coordinated attacks disabled bank websites and prevented customers from accessing their online accounts,” the FBI said in a statement.
The department noted the defendants are all believed to be in Iran but Interpol Red Notices have been issued for their arrests and extraditions to the U.S. if they travel outside Iran.
“By calling out the individuals and nations who use cyber attacks to threaten American enterprise, as we have done in this indictment, we will change behavior,” FBI Director James Comey said at a press conference announcing the indictments on March 24.
“No matter where hackers are in the world and no matter how hard they try to conceal their identities, we will find ways to pierce that shield and identify them. That is the message of this case.”
“We will continue to pursue national security cyber threats through the use of all available tools, including public criminal charges,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch added.
The department highlighted the attacks on the financial sector collectively cost tens of millions of dollars to mitigate. By September 2012 the attacks were occurring almost weekly and on some days hundreds of thousands of customers were cut from online access to their bank accounts.
One of the defendants also repeatedly gained access to the computer systems of the Bowman Dam in Rye, N.Y., in 2013. Although this intrusions did not include control of the dam, it allowed him to learn information about the dam’s operation, the department said.