Posted By: Jordan Brunner
On February 16, 2018, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians on charges of fraud and obstruction of justice for, among other things, assuming fake identities on social media and sowing discord in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mueller’s actions are in keeping with a general policy begun during the Obama administration of indicting foreign actors who use the Internet as a weapon against the United States. There are numerous justifications for this practice, the most prominent of which is to “name and shame” the perpetrators. As Lisa Monaco, Obama’s homeland security adviser, stated in a recent interview,
“[I]t [is] in our interest to publicly attribute that activity, to name and shame―if you will―to isolate that actor on the world stage, to garner international support to say, sanction or impose diplomatic costs. . . . The point there is: you’re calling out that activity, you’re identifying it, you’re naming it, you’re showing that you can attribute that, identify it, identify those actors. . . . And even if you don’t ultimately physically get your hands on your actors and get them into court, they aren’t going to be able to travel because otherwise that warrant will be out for them.”
Numerous actors have been indicted or sanctioned under this policy. Among those who have been indicted are:
- Five Chinese military hackers for attacks to gain trade secrets (May 19, 2014);
- Three Syrian Electronic Army hackers for attacks against media companies (Mar. 22, 2016);
- Seven Iranian hackers for attacks against banks and dams (Mar. 24, 2016);
- Four Russian hackers for an attack against Yahoo (Mar. 15, 2017); and
- Three Chinese hackers for attacks against electrical and economics firms (Nov. 27, 2017).
In addition, North Korea was sanctioned in the aftermath of the Sony attack as a “proportional response,” to “ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment,” according to the Obama administration.
But without extradition to the United States, actual prosecution of the individuals or groups under indictment is unlikely. This has led some scholars to claim that the indictments have little deterrent value, and indeed may be counterproductive. And it has led to increasing frustration from certain companies that have been the victims of attacks against their intellectual property. It has also led companies to take matters into their own hands. Continue reading