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Bush Orders Cyber-War Rules

President Bush has signed a secret order allowing the government to develop guidelines under which the United States could launch cyber-attacks against foreign computer systems, administration officials said Friday.

The United States has never conducted a large-scale cyber-attack, but officials said last month that the unfolding cyber-stategy plan made it more clear than ever that the Defense Department can wage cyber warfare if the nation is attacked.

The action illustrates Bush's desire to pursue new forms of potential warfare. The Washington Post, which first reported the signing of a presidential directive, said the Pentagon has stepped up development of cyber-weapons -- envisioning a day when soldiers could sit at computer terminals and silently invade foreign networks to shut down radar, disable electrical facilities and disrupt phone service.

The government so far has lacked rules for deciding the circumstances under which such attacks could be launched, who would authorize the attacks and what targets would be legitimate.