The U.S. threat of a pre-emptive strike is likely to both reduce and increase the risk of cyber war, said Murray Jennex, a cyber security expert and associate professor at San Diego State University. "It will reduce the risk of nations like Iran and China doing activities that look like hacking, but I think it increases risk overall, as there may be others who attempt to make it look like China or Iran are attacking, and we preemptively attack the wrong target," he said.
Iran is suspected of being behind a series of attacks that disrupted the online operations of major U.S. financial institutions last year.
When it comes to national security, the U.S. is within its right to respond preemptively to an imminent attack, whether it is in the form of missiles or code traveling through the Internet to destroy the power grid in a region of the U.S., said Andrew Serwin, head of the privacy, security and information management practice at the law firm Foley & Lardner.
"I think there's a cyber war going on now," Serwin said. "And I think it's a matter of how public we may be about what we're willing to do."