WASHINGTON The Obama administration has begun helping Middle Eastern allies build up their defenses against Irans growing arsenal of cyberweapons, and will be doing the same in Asia to contain computer-network attacks from North Korea, according to senior U.S. officials.
The officials would not say which countries in the Persian Gulf have signed up for help in countering Irans computer abilities. But the list, some officials say, includes the nations that have been the most active in tracking Iranian arms shipments, intercepting them in ports and providing intelligence to the United States about Iranian actions. The three most active in that arena are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
In Asia, the countries most worried about being struck by North Korean computer attacks are South Korea and Japan.
The Defense Departments assertive new effort in the Persian Gulf and Asia is the latest example of how the Obama administration is increasingly tailoring its national security efforts for a new era of digital conflict, in this case assuring the defense of computer networks and, if necessary, striking back against assaults.
A directive signed by the president that surfaced Friday the third in a series of leaked documents published by the newspapers The Guardian and The Washington Post underscored how the Obama administration is trying to prepare itself and its allies. The leaks also revealed how the Obama administration has put in place a large Internet surveillance operation to identify terrorism threats.
The presidential directive included the declaration that the United States reserved the right to take anticipatory action against imminent threats, a reference, it seemed, to the kind of crippling infrastructure attacks that Iran appears to be working on against U.S. and allied targets. The new help for strengthening computer-network defenses for allies, which has not been publicly announced, closely parallels earlier efforts by the Obama administration in two volatile parts of the world. In recent years it has helped install advanced missile-defense systems and early-warning radars in Persian Gulf nations to counter Irans missile ability, and it has done something similar in Asia in response to North Koreas nuclear weapons program.
But deterring cyberattacks is a far more complex problem, and American officials concede that this effort, which will include providing computer hardware and software and training to allies, is an experiment.
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