Cyber-Warfare & National Security: Obama Authorized To 'Order Pre-Emptive Cyber Attack' If Necessary

By Alexandra Burlacu email: | Feb 05, 2013 09:10 AM EST

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A cyber-warfare scenario seems increasingly likely, and President Obama reportedly holds the keys to America's malware arsenal if the nation faces real threat.

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As the U.S. keeps working on its cyber-warfare strategy, a "secret legal review" regarding the use of America's malware arsenal has reportedly concluded that the government has the authority to launch a cyber-attack against a threatening nation.

Ultimately, the decision falls on President Obama, who is in charge of determining whether the U.S. faces real cyber-threat and needs to defend itself.

The New York Times (NYT) has recently claimed it has been fending off cyber attacks and breaches into its systems for four months, and it traced those hacking attacks back to China. Now, a new NYT report, citing a source within the administration, breaks the news that new cyber-policies have given the green light for the military and U.S. intelligence agencies to deploy cyber-weapons against other nations if necessary.

The report comes as Obama's second-term administration is currently reviewing America's cyber-arsenal in an effort to determine how to protect U.S. critical infrastructure and national interests from online cyber threats.

The decision for President Obama to authorize such a pre-emptive cyber-attack is just one part of a bigger strategy designed to outline how the U.S. can face a major cyber-threat.

"The decision is among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation's first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack," reads the report. "New policies will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches or faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting the with destructive code - even if there is no declared war."

Cyber-weaponry is the newest and likely the most complex arsenal a nation could have, and the rules regarding use of such cyber-arsenal will be highly classified. The NYT cited "one senior American official" as saying that cyber-weapons hold immense power and, like nuclear weapons, they should only be unleashed on the direct orders of the commander in chief - in this case, President Obama.

One example describes how, as an exception, U.S. authorities could disable an enemy's defense system during a tactical drone strike. For the most part, however, the administration's review would reportedly focus on what "constitutes reasonable and proportional force" to prevent or retaliate against a cyber-attack.

"There are very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president," the official told the NYT.

This means that an "automatic" response is out of the question, even if a cyber-attack on America's infrastructure is detected.

The NYT report also comes just two weeks after the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano warned that hackers could exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. networks, and critical U.S. infrastructure, including water, electricity, and gas networks, could face a disastrous cyber-attack of 9/11 proportions.

Stuxnet, a worm that attacked Iranian nuclear facilities and first came to light back in 2010, exposing the U.S.' effort, reportedly makes one of the most significant parts of the U.S. cyber-warfare strategy. The Obama administration has likely not been involved in similar efforts since then.

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