President Obama hasn't been shy about engaging the public and other nations on digital issues, and that includes the idea of cyber warfare. While his administration has been pretty aggressive in building up our cyber defenses, our offensive capabilities have remained somewhat more mysterious. According to a leaked document obtained by the Guardian, the White House has made moves to seriously step up its digital arsenal. In fact, it appears that a Presidential Policy Directive issued in October (though, never released for public consumption) ordered that a list of over-seas targets be drawn up for potential future offensives. Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (or OCEOs) are cited in the directive as having "unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world." It then goes on to say that the government will, "identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power."
The more aggressive approach to battling foreign nations through the internet is likely to raise concerns in certain circles about the weaponization of the web. Of course, such fears about militarization aren't completely unwarranted. But with countries like China posing serious digital threats, government officials will likely see the moves as necessary. The document also says that any operations must abide by US and international law, though, we doubt any suggestions that our government blatantly ignore such rules would ever be put down on paper. The leak of the document follows hot on the heels of the growing PRISM scandal, which has put the nations digital policies front and center in the public's mind.