U.S. President Barack Obama has signed an executive order authorizing the U.S. government to impose sanctions on people, organizations and governments that partake in "malicious cyber-enabled activities" that harm the country.
"The same technologies that help keep our military strong are used by hackers in China and Russia to target our defense contractors and systems that support our troops," Obama said in a statement.
The sanctions would target activities that significantly harm critical infrastructure, disrupt computer networks, expose personal information and trade secrets, and entities that profit from information stolen in cyberattacks. The administration will focus on threats from outside the U.S., noting that "many of these attacks originate from outside our borders."
The sanctions Obama announced on Wednesday will help prevent and respond to cyberattacks when channels such as working with law enforcement and the private sector or cooperating with nations don't offer a resolution. In some cases, foreign laws are too weak or governments "either unwilling or unable to crack down on those responsible," the statement said.
The new powers allow the government to block a person or organization's access to U.S. financial institutions and any property they have in the country. Suspected hackers are also barred from either giving or receiving funds and transferring assets.
Preventing cybercriminals from transferring funds deposited in a U.S. bank can limit "their ability to both commit these malicious acts and to profit from them," the statement said.
In his remarks, Obama mentioned recent cyberattacks against the U.S., including the December data breach at Sony Pictures that was linked to North Korea. Other industries that have been targeted by cyberattacks of late include retail, banking and health care.