The White House issued a warning to foreign adversaries Thursday that offensive cyber operations are now a part of the US defense arsenal.
Unveiling a new cyberstrategy that administration officials say places the US on a greater offensive stance against threats, national security adviser John Bolton put would-be attackers on notice. He warned adversaries the US was ready, willing and now able to respond to threats.
“For any nation that’s taking cyber activity against the United States, they should expect … we will respond offensively as well as defensively,” he said, though he declined to specify how the US might respond to individual actions.
“We’re going to do a lot of things offensively,” Bolton told reporters at the White House.
The announcement of the new strategy comes weeks ahead of key midterm elections, which US officials say could be subject to foreign influence. An investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election is still underway.
The new cyberstrategy, Bolton said, extends beyond countering Russia. He said efforts to steal information and compromise US infrastructure would be met with a response. He said countries like Iran, China and North Korea have made efforts that need to be countered.
A centerpiece is the replacement of an Obama-era presidential directive that required consultation among different national security agencies before a US-led cyberattack could be launched. The new measure allows for offensive cyber operations against malign foreign actors without such consultation. The provision went into effect several weeks ago.
Bolton appeared to take veiled shots at the previous administration, saying the US would no longer act only in defense.
“I think it’s important for people to understand: We’re not just on defense,” he said, adding later: “We are going to do a lot of things offensively. Our adversaries need to know that.”