White House to step up cyber offense on hackers as US midterm elections approach

The move comes as US intelligence officials expect digital attacks ahead of 6 November elections.

The White House warned foreign hackers on 20 September that it will increase offensive measures as part of a new national cybersecurity strategy.

The move comes as US intelligence officials expect a flurry of digital attacks ahead of the 6 November congressional elections.

The strategy provides federal agencies with new guidance for how to protect themselves and the private data of Americans, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters.

The U.S. flag flies at full staff less than 48 hours after John McCain's death over the White House in Washington, U.S., August 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RC1AA5C44370

White House in Washington. Image: Reuters

Bolton said the policy change was needed “not because we want more offensive operations in cyberspace but precisely to create the structures of deterrence that will demonstrate to adversaries that the cost of their engaging in operations against us is higher than they want to bear.”

The new policy also outlines a series of broad priorities, including the need to develop global internet policies and a competent domestic cybersecurity workforce.

It follows a recent Trump administration decision to reverse an Obama-era directive, known as PPD-20, which established an exhaustive approval process for the military to navigate in order to launch hacking operations. Bolton said the removal provided more leeway to respond to foreign cyber threats.

“In general, I think there is new tone in the policy but not much new policy other than the revocation of PPD-20, which had already been announced,” Ari Schwartz, White House National Security Council cybersecurity director under President Barack Obama, told Reuters.

“In my experience, it has not been deterrence policies that held back a response, but the inability of agencies to execute,” he said.

“I guess we will see what happens if this strategy really leads to less oversight, but a lack of oversight will likely lead to a lot of confusing finger-pointing in the wake of any failure.”

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