With the launch of a new cyber strategy, US president Donald Trump has authorised the use of "offensive cyber operations" against US adversaries, National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters on Thursday.
The US hopes by deploying offensive measures it can deter cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure and other systems, Bolton said, by demonstrating to adversaries that the cost "is higher than they want to bear."
In a letter, Trump said the new guidelines demonstrated his commitment to securing America from digital threats. "It is a call to action for all Americans and our great companies to take the necessary steps to enhance our national cybersecurity," he said. "We will continue to lead the world in securing a prosperous cyber future."
Trump's strategy, which he calls the "first fully articulated cyber strategy in 15 years," replaces one implemented under the Obama administration. It is said to considerably relax rules surrounding the use of cyberweapons by the Pentagon and other agencies.
"We're going to do a lot of things offensively," Bolton said.
The move comes as US intelligence warns of ongoing foreign operations aimed at undermining the 2018 midterm elections, including cyberattacks against voting infrastructure and computer intrusions targeting election officials.
Asked if he considered the US to be actively involved in a "cyberwar," Bolton said he didn't accept that "characterisation." But with its hands no longer tied, he said, expect the US to strike back more frequently.