United States president Donald Trump has signed an order relaxing rules around the use of cyber-weapons, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
The move serves as a reversal of guidelines drawn up under President Barack Obama which required a wide range of federal agencies to be involved in decisions around launching cyber-attacks.
The previous rules for using cyber-espionage involved approvals from various government departments but were widely considered to be a hindrance to taking effective action.
One official said the US was taking “an offensive step forward”.
The US administration is under pressure to deal with cyber-threats, amid growing concerns that state-sponsored hacks could hit critical infrastructure.
Prof Alan Woodward, a computer scientist at the University of Surrey, told the BBC, “We are in an era when certain governments are acting aggressively in cyber-space, and that is rightly condemned by governments such as that in the US.
“To respond in kind is not necessarily the way to de-escalate the situation.”
He added, “You wouldn’t allow a pre-emptive physical attack without thorough analysis and approval at the highest levels, so why would cyber-attacks be any different?”