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US Cyber Command has been empowered to launch attacks against foreign countries.

The more aggressive approach will be targeted at states that host or sponsor malicious hacking groups believed to be behind attacks on US companies and infrastructure. It represents a more proactive strategy compared to the almost purely defensive posture the US government has followed until now.

It comes after the US Cyber Command was promoted to equal status with the Indo-Pacific, European, Space and Joint Special Operations conventional defence commands by the US Department of Defense.

The new strategy coincides with the appointment of new national security advisor John Bolton, who was behind the elimination of the White House cybersecurity coordinator after taking over in April.

According to the New York Times, the more proactive approach has led to “nearly daily raids on foreign networks”, as US Cyber Command’s staff seek to disable “cyber weapons” before they can be deployed. The NYT claims to have seen strategy documents, and talked to military and intelligence officials to corroborate the story.

It adds that the change in strategy hasn’t been formally debated inside the White House.

“The new strategy envisions constant, disruptive ‘short of war’ activities in foreign computer networks,” claims the NYT. The strategy builds on more proactive online counter-terrorism operations against Al Qaeda and Islamic State, by taking them on over the internet wherever they might have been residing.

“The objective, according to the new ‘vision statement’ quietly issued by the command, is to ‘contest dangerous adversary activity before it impairs our national power’,” the newspaper adds.

Last year, the Pentagon weighed up the legal basis for attacking missiles on their launchpad using cyber attacks against missile control systems or components, according to The Daily Beast,

The new approach not only risks escalating antagonism between the US and its online adversaries, including China, North Korea and Russia, but also with allies. In order to counter-strike effectively against online attackers US Cyber Command security specialists may also need to work covertly on networks of allied countries, risking diplomatic incidents.

Bolton has been labelled a ‘hawk’ for his attitudes towards regime change in Iran and North Korea, supported the second Iraq war and the termination of the coalition deal with Iran over its development of nuclear weapons.

Original Story Source: Computing