White House Sanctions Attempt to Hit Cyber-Crime in the Pocketbook

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-04-01 Print this article Print
cyber-criminal activity

NEWS ANALYSIS: Obama administration issues an Executive Order that allows the government to stop the flow of money and movement of people connected with cyber-crime.

Monaco also said that law-abiding U.S. companies have nothing to worry about. "We will never use it to try to silence free expression online or curb Internet freedom," Monaco said. This raises the question about those who donate to help fund activities such as WikiLeaks, an organization that clearly fits the description of organizations that would fall under the sanctions of the order.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, most recently in the Citizens United decision, that donations of money equate to speech and are protected under the First Amendment. Would those donations be sanctioned? Monaco's statement would indicate that they would not, but nothing in the order says that.

The bigger question, of course, is whether this Executive Order will actually accomplish anything. The answer is, "maybe." The problem with issuing sanctions against most state operated attackers is the issue of diplomacy and practicality. The problem with issuing sanctions against most cyber-criminals is finding them. Neither of those problems is made easier by the EO.

In the case of state-sponsored attacks, such as the Chinese army's constant attempts to steal trade secrets, classified information, email addresses or anything else that is not nailed down, is it a practicality? Can you really issue trade sanctions against China? Not without risking a trade war that damages both sides. And if you try to issue sanctions against the Chinese army, what exactly would you block?

While it's possible that this order might provide a way to block some activities, it's hard to see how it will accomplish much on its own. However, as an important weapon in the much larger arsenal of cyber-weapons at the disposal of the U.S. government, it provides an important capability. One can, after all, accomplish a great deal by following the money.

An excellent example from an earlier time is the conviction of the famous gangster Al Capone on tax evasion charges. Capone was never tried for the vast array of crimes for which he was responsible, but he was caught by his own money trail. Because he didn't pay taxes on his ill-gotten gains, he spent most of the rest of his days in the slammer.

This sort of approach does have possibilities in fighting cyber-crime. After all, most such crime is aimed at making a profit, but if those criminal organizations can't get access to the money, there's no point in being in that business. Assuming, of course, that the Treasury Department can find a place in the money trail to cut things off.

For those organizations, cutting off the flow of money is like cutting off the air they breathe. They will soon die. But that's not the case with state-sponsored attacks—after all, they have their own supply of money.


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