The news: Hours before leaving the presidency, Donald Trump issued an executive order that requires American cloud computing companies to do more to verify the identity of their foreign customers. The stated aim is to help prevent hacking operations against the United States, although the timing and scope of the order leaves it shrouded in uncertainty.
What it says: the order instructs the Commerce Department to draft new customer verification regulations within six months for infrastructure-as-a-service products offered by US tech giants such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon. The new rules would establish minimum customer identity verification standards and record-keeping requirements for cloud computing companies that sell to overseas customers. This includes sales made through resellers, which hackers used to hide their identities before committing abuse.
Late in the day: The timing of the executive order – which was announced on the evening of January 19, the end of Trump’s last full day in office – is exceptional. Not only has he arrived just as the curtains close on his chair, but he comes in the wake of an extraordinary hacking campaign against US government agencies and big business. US intelligence agencies say the Russian government is “probably” behind the spy campaign, a charge Moscow denies. The full impact of the operation is still being calculated.
Uncertain impact: In a statement released last night, National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien said attacks of this nature “have played a role in every cyber incident over the past four years, including actions involving led to the penetration of the American companies FireEye and SolarWinds. “But whether such rules would actually stop foreign hackers in practice is a source of debate. And since the order was signed so late and it will take months to have an impact, the question of whether it lasts in its current form rests with the new administration of Joe Biden. Any executive order from Trump could be revoked or changed by the new president, who is expected to sign a wave of such orders upon taking office.