American president Barack Obama is so hacked off with cyber-attacks on US companies (and other interests) that he’s taken a step sure to send the perpetrators running for cover. In an executive order on the 1st of April, he created a new sanctions authority to have a go at anyone attacking the USA. In the statement announcing it he is quoted as saying “Cyber threats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges to the United States, and my administration is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to confront them”, describing it as a “national emergency”
Basically it gives the US Treasury Department to freeze the assets of any hackers suspected of attacking the US, in much the same way as it brings peace to places the Middle East and Ukraine. The criminals behind these attacks are no doubt quaking in their sneakers.
The decision to blame North Korea for the Sony attack told the world that the administration was getting tough, never mind the facts. And the Chinese, of course, deny state-sponsored naughtiness on an apparently daily basis.
The problem is, of course, that it’s somewhat difficult to actually figure out who’s behind an attack. Working out where an attack comes from is possible, and it’s usually from some hijacked computers used to obfuscate the origin. China and various other countries have a higher installed base of pirated software, which often comes with a built-in botnet, so of course attacks come from these places.
Initial opinion in the USA is divided between the law-makers, politicians and the non-technical cyber-security industry heralding it as the beginning of the end for international espionage gangs, and those of us who know now it works wondering if this is an April Fool.
One point I find intriguing, however, is whether this will have an effect on patent disputes. Apparently they’re worried about, and plan to apply these powers to, intellectual property theft. It seems to me that if some technology turned up in a competitor’s product and the American company went crying to the authorities they could have sanctions imposed on the foreign company, without any reasonable way of proving that any theft had taken place – or even who had it first. It could get messy.