The US Department of Defense (DoD) is creating 13 teams of programmers security experts to conduct offensive attacks against foreign adversaries should a critical attack on the US occur.
National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander will lead the effort to establish the teams.
General Alexander said the DoD would use the cyber teams for offensive measures only, the New York Times reports, in what is the first admittance by the Government that it uses cyber weapons.
“I would like to be clear that this team, this defend-the-nation team, is not a defensive team,” General Alexander told the House Armed Services Committee.
“This is an offensive team that the Defense Department would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyber space. Thirteen of the teams that we're creating are for that mission alone.”
The Obama administration has increasingly encouraged the public and private sector to adequately prepare for and counter critical infrastructure attacks or spying attempts made by foreign countries aiming to steal corporate and government data that drives economic competitiveness.
President Obama, through comments delivered to the Asia Society in New York by his national security adviser, called for China to stop raiding US organisations of intellectual property.
In response to concerns raised by government officials and the media, a foreign ministry spokesperson said that China was willing to cooperate with the US and other nations to respond to cyber attacks originating from within its borders.
Using offensive measures to thwart cyber attacks is a topic that has long been under discussion in the IT security industry, though more extreme tactics, like dismantling the infrastructure of hackers through preemptive attacks, are frowned upon by many experts when used for corporate purposes.
Jeffrey Carr, cyber security analyst and founder of consultancy Taia Global, told SC the offensive cyber teams` was a “natural” progression for the government to stave off growing threats to critical operations.
“I think it's a natural extension of stepping up our cyber command,” Carr said, adding that cyber responses from the government would be “proportional” and used in accordance with law.
“I don't think this should be interpreted as the US becoming more aggressive," Carr said.
"I think this is just a natural part of the process. Many countries are doing the same things that the US is doing – having the ability to conduct cyber warfare operations.”
Ian Amit, director of services at security firm IOActive said the news was a sign that the government was becoming more transparent about its cyber operations to defend the nation.
“I definitely think it's a necessary step, but I think it's a more of [a move towards] transparency,” Amit said.