US draws up battle plan to stave off digital attack cyberstrikes

Pre-emptive strikes will be launched under secret guidelines to protect computer systems

New York

The US could launch pre-emptive cyber strikes against countries it suspects of threatening its interests with a digital attack, under a new set of secret guidelines to safeguard the nation’s computer systems.

The rules – the country’s first on how it defends or retaliates against digital attacks – are expected to be approved in coming weeks, and are likely to be kept under wraps, much like the policies governing the country’s controversial drone programme. 

A secret legal review into the new guidelines has already decided that President Barack Obama has the power to order such pre-emptive strikes if faced with credible evidence of a looming attack, according to the New York Times, which quoted unnamed officials involved in the review.

The revelations come just days after an array of American media organisations, including the New York Times and The Washington Post, said their computer networks had been infiltrated by Chinese hackers. The risk of digital attacks was also underlined by a recent US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report which revealed that a computer virus had forced an unidentified US power plant to go offline for three days last year.

The US, meanwhile, is known to have conducted cyber attacks of its own, with President Obama reported to have approved a wave of assaults against Iran during his first term. The programme, code-named “Olympic Games”, targeted Iranian nuclear facilities with malicious computer worms. It began under President George W Bush, but Mr Obama is believed to have ordered an acceleration of the digital attacks when he took office. The details only came to light when the Stuxnet worm – believed to have been developed by the US and Israel – surfaced on the internet. Last month, the Iranian government officially denied it had any hand in a recent string of cyber attacks on US financial institutions.

Inside the Obama administration, John Brennan, the President’s counterterrorism chief during his first term and now his nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has reportedly been a key player in crafting policies governing the drone programme and the new area of cyber warfare.

And while the American military faces deep budgets cuts, the Pentagon recently approved a major expansion of its so-called “Cyber Command”. Currently around 900-strong, the country’s cybersecurity force will swell to some 4,900 troops in the next few years, according to The Washington Post.

Given the capability of digital weapons, few decisions are likely to be taken without the nod of the President himself.

“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” an official told the New York Times.

But concerns are already growing about the lack of transparency in the way the administration is tooling up for war in the digital world. “What concerns us is not the growth of forces but the way it is happening behind the scenes,” said a Washington Post editorial published at the weekend.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Bookkeeper - German Speaking - Part Time

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm of accountants based ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a financial services c...

Ashdown Group: Field Service Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum + car allowance and on call: Ashdown Group: A succes...

Recruitment Genius: Sales & Marketing Co-Ordinator

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established small company ...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence