President Obama has signed a classified directive aimed at clarifying how the United States responds to cyberattacks, a White House official confirmed on Wednesday.
The news comes as the Senate looks to revisit controversial cybersecurity legislation as soon as Wednesday.
The directive, which was first reported by The Washington Post, was signed in mid-October and is designed to guide federal agencies in conducting both defensive and offensive cyberoperations.
"The directive establishes principles and processes for the use of cyber operations so that cyber tools are integrated with the fully array of national security tools we have at our disposal," an administration official said in an e-mail to reporters. "This directive will establish principles and processes that can enable more effective planning, development, and use of our capabilities."
The White House was quick to point out that the directive does not establish new authorities for any federal agencies. Congress is considering legislation that could give officials more oversight of certain private networks, and a draft executive order is aimed at setting cybersecurity standards and encouraging information-sharing for private companies.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that lawmakers were seeking to come to an agreement that could allow the Senate to vote on cybersecurity legislation as soon as Wednesday.
The White House directive updates a similar order from 2004. Officials say that offensive cyberattacks would be among the last options considered.
"It continues to be our policy that we shall undertake the least action necessary to mitigate threats and that we will prioritize network defense and law enforcement as the preferred courses of action," the official said.