The “increasing prevalence and severity of malicious cyber-enabled activities” threaten national security and the U.S. economy, according to the April 2015 order. Such attacks can harm critical infrastructure, damage computer systems, and lead to the theft of trade secrets or sensitive information.
The presidential order allows the Secretary of the Treasury, working with the Attorney General and the Secretary of State, to freeze the financial assets of foreign individuals and entities found to have participated in illegal cyber activity. Other sanctions include barring cyber attackers from commercial transactions within the United States.
Although cyber attacks may be part of ideological warfare or other forms of conflict, they are frequently driven by profit-seeking criminals. In a news release, the Obama Administration said the new authority will be used “in a targeted manner against the most significant cyber threats.”
The federal government and other public-sector agencies are competing with private-sector employers to recruit cybersecurity professionals. For example, employment of information security analysts nationwide will jump by 37% between 2012 and 2022, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The number of cybersecurity-related jobs outpaces the number of people qualified to fill them, and that demand is growing rapidly,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notes on its website.
Cyber attacks are increasingly dominating headlines. In late 2014, U.S. officials implicated North Korea in a hack targeting Sony Pictures as the studio prepared to release “The Interview,” a comedy portraying the assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The cyber breach resulted in the publication of embarrassing emails written by Sony officials and the movie company briefly postponed the film’s release.
Other examples of massive cyber attacks include the hacking of Home Depot and Target, which exposed the payment card numbers and personal information of more than 150 million customers. Meanwhile, a breach at JPMorgan Chase compromised the names, email addresses, phone numbers and addresses of millions of the bank’s customers.
The executive order is the latest measure aimed at protecting the nation and its citizens and businesses from online intruders.
In February 2015, President Obama established the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC). Its mission is to connect the dots regarding malicious cyber threats while providing U.S. policymakers with analysis of risks. Administration officials said the CTIIC will be a critical component of the interagency cyber response.
“No one connected to the Internet is immune from these harms – not businesses, not private citizens, and not the government,” Lisa Monaco, a homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, wrote on The White House blog in April. “We are at a transformational moment in how we approach cybersecurity.”