DONALD Trump has quietly scrapped rules that required high-level and inter-agency approval for military cyber operations, making it easier for the US to deploy cyber weapons.

A classified Obama-era directive known as PPD-20 signed in 2012 and leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, mandated an intricate inter-agency legal and policy process for green-lighting cyberattacks.

The Trump administration has now reversed that policy in a move welcomed by certain Pentagon officials but called an “experiment” by those concerned it could unleash a greater level of cyber warfare.

President Trump has granted authority down the chain of command, making it easier for the US Department of Defense and its Cyber Command to launch digital strikes against other nations, terrorist groups and crime syndicates.

One Trump administration official described it as a “step forward” intended to help support military operations, deter foreign election influence and thwart intellectual property theft by meeting such threats with a more forceful response, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal that broke the news.

Some National Security Council officials have been pushing for months to overturn the directive, complaining it prevented a quick and forceful response to cyberattacks by involving too many federal agencies in the planning.

According to Eric Geller, a cyber security reporter at Politico, the US Department of Defense and Cyber Command “bristled at having to go through rounds of debate about diplomatic and economic consequences of digital strikes”.

The Journal report cited one US official who spoke of concerns that the move will grant the military new authority “which may allow them to have a domestic mission”.

Details around the new rules that will replace the Obama-era directive are classified and have not been made public.

Jason Healey, a former government official and current director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative at the Atlantic Council expressed concern the change could pave the way for more frequent deployment of cyber weapons without sufficient measures of what constitutes victory.

“This is not just a normal war with an adversary that can be defeated,” Mr Healey wrote on Twitter in reaction to the news.

“It is not just persistent but permanent, a constant state of online engagement between nuclear-armed states. So sure, authorise changes to PPD-20, but recognise this is an experiment.”


The news comes as Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sounds the alarm at the growing rate of cyber attacks targeting our companies and government agencies.

Flanked by senior ministers from portfolios dealing with Australia’s defence, Mr Turnbull cut the ribbon on a new national cyber security centre on Thursday as he spoke about the growing threat.

“All these increasing cyber attacks have the hallmarks of a perfect cyber storm,” Mr Turnbull told reporters and intelligence officials in Canberra. “We must not and will not wait for a catastrophic cyber incident before we act to prevent future attacks.”

The centre has already dealt with 14,000 cyber security incidents since 2016, at a rate of more than 16 a day.

“Attempted attacks are occurring every day,” Mr Turnbull said. “Billions of cyber events orchestrated by criminal and nation-state actors are aiming at the very heart of the Australian government.”

The threat, Mr Turnbull said, was global with foreign governments among the most consistent offenders.

He cited the targeting of 33 Australian universities by an Iranian-based campaign targeting intellectual property and academic research. Russian hackers interfering in elections were also a concern. The global cost of cyber crime was estimated at $600 billion this year, with Australia’s bill topping $7 billion.