The White House called these “a response to the Government of North Korea’s ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.”
The new sanctions focus on North Korea’s primary intelligence organization, the Korean Tangun Trading Corporation, and Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, which the Treasury Department classifies as a major North Korean arms dealer.
The sanctions also target 10 North Korean government officials working in Iran, Syria, China, Russia, and Namibia.
The executive order was announced through the president’s press secretary, and is entitled “Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to North Korea.” The executive order also authorizes the Treasury Department to impose sanctions on individuals and entities associated with the North Korean government.
While the U.S. already imposes strict sanctions over North Korea's nuclear program, these are the first punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyberattacks.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Obama said, "The order is not targested at the people of North Korea, but rather is aimed at the government of North Korea and its activities that threaten the United States and others."
The U.S. accused North Korea of being involved in hacking Sony Pictures in December in relation to the release of their film, The Interview, which satirizes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
While an FBI investigation linked the attack to North Korean servers, many security experts have expressed doubt that sufficient evidence exists to pin blame on North Korea for the attack.
North Korea categorically denies any involvement in the Sony hacks.