President Obama signs order creating new cyber sanctions program

Sanctions would apply to those engaged in malicious cyber activity that aims to harm critical infrastructure, damage computer systems, and steal trade secrets or sensitive information

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday created the first sanctions program that would allow the U.S. to penalize individuals and entities overseas who engage in malicious cyberattacks and cyber spying.

"Cyber threats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges to the United States," Obama said in a statement after signing an executive order creating the sanctions regime.

The order gives the U.S. the authority to sanction individuals, though no specific penalties were announced. Obama said the sanctions would apply to those engaged in malicious cyber activity that aims to harm critical infrastructure, damage computer systems, and steal trade secrets or sensitive information.

The announcement follows the Obama administration's allegations that North Korea was behind last year's cyberattack on Sony Pictures. Major U.S. companies, including Target and Home Depot, have also been the target of hacking that put consumer information at risk.

The U.S. did sanction several North Korean individuals in retaliation for the Sony hack, but they were not targeted specifically for their role in that incident.

U.S. officials have been particularly concerned about cyberthreats from China and a handful of other countries they say are capable of mounting massive cyberattacks that could shut down the electrical grid and other critical systems.

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