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Obama Extends ‘Emergency’ Cybersecurity Powers

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama // Carolyn Kaster/AP

President Barack Obama on Tuesday said computer attacks remain a national emergency and informed Congress he will renew the administration's power to sanction overseas hackers.

It has been nearly a year since Obama authorized financial penalties against foreign hackers, although he has not exercised his power yet.

Last week, the U.S. government unsealed an indictment accusing seven hackers tied to the Iranian government of paralyzing IT networks at Wall Street financial institutions and toying with a dam flood-control system in Rye, New York.

Some administration officials reportedly have said the charges announced last Thursday could signal the imminence of  economic sanctions against Iran for computer attacks.

National emergencies sunset after a year, unless a president notifies Congress three months ahead of the termination date about an extension.

"Significant malicious cyber-enabled activities originating from, or directed by persons located, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States," Obama said in his letter to the House and Senate chiefs. As a result, "it is necessary to continue the national emergency" beyond April 1, 2016.

The presidential order allows sanctions against nation state hackers and complicit individuals.

In January 2015, before inking the executive order, the administration imposed financial sanctions against North Korea in retaliation of a destructive hack attack at Sony Pictures Entertainment.

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