President Donald Trump said the United States “is better at cyber than anyone else in the world” in a Jan. 9 interview with a Toledo television station, marking one of the rare times during his administration he appears to be speaking about military cybersecurity operations.

Trump spoke about a possible cyberattack from Iran with 13ABC’s Lee Conklin while in Ohio for a rally. Conklin asked the president what the White House was doing to protect the nation’s computer systems from an attack.

“Cyber is a whole thing. It’s a whole new field. We have some tremendous people. We’re better at cyber than anybody else in the world," he said. "But we weren’t really using that power, that intellect, on cyber. We weren’t doing it. And now we are. And we have – I have – incredible people in charge of cyber. If we ever get hit, we’ll hit very hard. We’ll be able to hit very hard. But it’s a new form of war – warfare – and I think we have it very well under control.”

Trump appears to be referring to the White House’s new, more aggressive cybersecurity strategy and a revamped philosophy on cyber operations with the Department of Defense. In 2018, the Department of Defense began following a new philosophy for cyber operations to better protect U.S. networks and infrastructure. Known as “defend forward,” the approach allows U.S. cyber forces to be active in foreign network outside the United States to either act against adversaries or warn allies of impending cyber activity that they’ve observed on foreign networks.

Gen. Paul Nakasone is the head of U.S. Cyber Command. In recent years, Cyber Command appears to have conducted at least three operations according to reporting from the Washington Post, Yahoo News and Reuters. This includes disrupting internet access at a Russian troll factory to protect the integrity of U.S. elections and operations against Iran. On Jan. 11, the New York Times reported that earlier this year American officials considered conducting a cyberattack to “partly disable Iran’s oil and gas sector.”

In 2019 Trump signed an executive order directing the creation of programs to grow the cyber security workforce.

Chiara Vercellone is a reporter interning with Defense News, C4ISRNET and Fifth Domain Cyber

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