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Legal review clears way for US escalation of cyber war

American officials have disclosed the details of a legal review that has granted President Barack Obama the authority to order powerful, pre-emptive cyber strikes on foreign enemies.

Senior figures from Washington told The New York Times that Obama has a license to attack if there is credible evidence of a digital threat from abroad - one major decision among several made over recent months regarding America’s use of cyber weaponry.

Speaking off the record, the officials revealed that cyber warfare will operate under highly classified rules, similar to the US’s secretive drone strikes on foreign locations which have not been declared war zones. Such a policy does not indicate a shift to particularly 'new' tactics, however, given the knowledge of campaigns like Operation Olympic Games, which has seen the US attack the digital infrastructure of Iran and other nations, in conjunction with Israel.

But the Times report also indicates that the attacks launched so far have not exploited the full power of America’s cyber arsenal. “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” one senior official said.

Another commented that the US quickly realised that its cyber weapons were so powerful that, in the same vain as nuclear weapons, they should only be used on the direct orders of the president.

The news comes the same day as quotes on cyber crime from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt have caused a stir, with the Obama ally calling China the world's “most sophisticated and prolific hacker” in his new book.

"The disparity between American and Chinese firms and their tactics will put both the government and the companies of the United States at a distinct disadvantage," writes Schmidt, arguing that "the United States will not take the same path of digital corporate espionage, as its laws are much stricter (and better enforced) and because illicit competition violates the American sense of fair play. This is a difference in values as much as a legal one."