US may use preemptive cyber strikes: Report

February 05, 2013 - 4:45:40 am

WASHINGTON: A secret legal review has concluded that the US president has the power to order preemptive cyber strikes if the United States discovers credible evidence of a major digital attack against it is in the offing, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Citing unnamed officials involved in the review, the newspaper said the new policy will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of overseas computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries with a destructive code — even if there is no declared war.

The review came as the US Department of Defence approved a five-fold expansion of its cyber security force over the coming years in a bid to increase its ability to defend critical computer networks. The Washington Post reported that the department’s Cyber Command, which currently has a staff of about 900, will expand to about 4,900 troops and civilians. The seriousness of the threat has been underscored by a string of sabotage attacks, including one in which a virus was used to wipe data from more than 30,000 computers at a Saudi Arabian state oil company last summer.

Barack Obama is known to have approved the use of cyber weapons only once, when he ordered an escalating series of cyber attacks against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, The Times said. The operation was code-named Olympic Games. The attacks on Iran illustrated that a nation’s infrastructure can be destroyed without bombing it or sending in saboteurs, the report said.

Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyber attacks on American companies or individuals. But the military would become involved in cases of a major cyber attack within the US, the paper noted. AFP