GOP bill would force Obama to sanction Iranian hackers

GOP bill would force Obama to sanction Iranian hackers
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Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) on Thursday introduced a bill that would force the White House to sanction seven Iranians recently indicted for a series of coordinated cyberattacks against the U.S. financial sector and for infiltrating a New York dam.

“Just talking about the need to fight back against malicious cyber actors isn't enough,” said the chairman of the Homeland Security subcommittee on cybersecurity.

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“The administration must follow through with forceful action that shows we mean business when it comes to defending our critical infrastructure and protecting Americans' personal information,” Ratcliffe added.

The measure pushes the administration to use a 2015 executive order that authorized the Treasury Department to sanction individuals who engage in cyberattacks against the United States.

The indictment, unsealed in March, directly ties the seven alleged hackers to the Iranian government, claiming they were employed by computer security firms working on behalf of Tehran.

The strikes on the financial sector, which occurred between late 2011 and mid-2013, left hundreds of thousands unable to connect to their accounts online, costing victims tens of millions of dollars.

Only one of the seven alleged hackers was charged with illegally accessing the control systems of the Bowman Dam in Rye, N.Y. — access that would have given him the ability to control water levels and flow rates.

Officials emphasized that the charges are intended to “send a powerful message” to foreign hackers.

Some onlookers see the move as a targeted warning to Iran, amid fears that Tehran would use a new influx of resources from its recently struck nuclear deal to fund cyber warfare efforts.

Iran’s economic sanctions were lifted in January, giving Tehran access to roughly $100 billion of its formerly frozen assets that can now be funneled into cyber and technology development.

To critics of the White House’s handling of Iran, though, the move confirms Obama’s longstanding failure to recognize the country’s cyberspace aggression.

"Just last week, I met personally with [Israel] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed deep concerns that Iran may use funds from the nuclear agreement to bolster its cyber capabilities,” said Ratcliffe, a fierce opponent of the nuclear deal.

“This reinforced the necessity of using sanctions as a tool in deterring such destructive behavior that so greatly threatens our national security.” 

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced a Senate version of the bill last month.