Under the order of President Barack Obama, senior U.S. officials have created a list of critical cyber targets to attack in the event of an emergency or conflict.
The order, Presidential Policy Directive 20, was issued in October 2012, though it was never publicly published.
The order outlines a policy for "Offensive Cyber Effects Operations," which grants the government the ability to conduct cyberstrikes both within the U.S. and overseas, according to The Guardian, which broke the story shortly after another cybersecurity scandal, PRISM, hit headlines around the world.
The directive would, according to the report, offer the U.S. the ability to strike targets with "little to no warning" with cyber attacks ranging from barely noticeable to severely damaging.
For President Barack Obama, the timing of these attacks couldn't have been worse. Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summitt in California. Among the topics Obama planned on discussing is China's apparent state-backed hacking attacks on U.S. industry and government agencies. China denies it is behind these attacks, despite the attacks being traced back to a People's Liberation Army - China's main military force - building in Shanghai.
China has frequently criticized the U.S. government as being hypocritical on its cyberattack stance, saying the U.S. is responsible for a good deal of cyberattacks on Chinese property. In the past, China has pointed towards the joint U.S.-Israeli Stuxnet operation on Iranian centrifuges as evidence of U.S. aggression. This leak has just added more ammunition to the Chinese argument.
This is the third major cybersecurity leak within three days. The first leak detailed a secret private-public agreement between the U.S. government and major wireless providers - from Verizon to AT&T - to provide federal agencies with telephony metadata - ranging from phone numbers called and the duration of each phone call.
Shortly after the details of the federal metadata operation were leaked, another cybersecurity story popped up. This time the leaked information detailed a top-secret program named PRISM. That program grants the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation the ability to - allegedly - directly access data stored on the servers of nine major tech organizations including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Google.
Most of these organizations have denied any knowledge of PRISM and claim they don't allow government agencies direct access to their servers. Whether or not these companies are telling the truth, or bound by law to deny such an arrangement, is a matter of ongoing debate.