The President of the United States now has the power to order a pre-emptive cyber attack against potential adversaries.
According to a secret legal review, the President has been granted "broad powers" to order a computer attack on any force the government concludes is preparing to launch a digital assault on the United States.
The news comes courtesy of the New York Times, who cites "officials involved in the review" as sources.
Notably, the president does not need a declaration of war from Congress in order to authorize these types of strikes.
Here's how the new guidelines work. The government's intelligence agencies will monitor international networks, searching for any sign of a potential attack. If there's reason to believe an attack is imminent, the president can order a pre-emptive computer-based strike against the malevolent actors.
When it comes to defending cyber attacks from within the country, the responsibility will generally fall on the shoulders of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the FBI. However, should a more dangerous situation present itself, the president can order the Pentagon to become involved.
Recently, the Pentagon announced plans to bolster the Defense Department's Cyber Command by about 4,000 people. Aside from boosting U.S. defense operations, the plan calls for the creation of "Combat Mission Forces," who will be capable of carrying out offensive cyber attacks against potential targets.
The news follows a string of recent cyber attacks on a number of institutions. The Justice Department's web site was recently hijacked by the hacker group Anonymous over the prosecution of the late Aaron Swartz. Meanwhile, numerous news organizations such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post have revealed that they've fended off Chinese hackers for months.
China denies the allegations, but it's accepted by many that the country is behind most of the world's state-sponsored internet attacks. This new legal review, while never explicitly mentioning China, seems likely to be aimed at battling the country's increasingly antagonistic online presence.
"While this is all described in neutral terms - what are we going to do about cyberattacks - the underlying question is, 'What are we going to do about China?' " said Richard Falkenrath, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, to the New York Times. "There's a lot of signaling going on between the two countries on this subject."