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Assessing threat of online theft vs. cyber war

There's a lot of talk about the threat of cyber war these days -- the Pentagon has even stood up a new Cyber Command to unite defensive and offensive cyber capabilities -- but the more serious threat to the country may be the theft of intellectual property from computer networks, says the Pentagon's second in command.

It's less dramatic than the prospect of a hacker bringing down the power grid or sabotaging a nuclear power plant, but, "it may be the most significant cyberthreat that the United States will face over the long term," says Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III in a forthcoming article on the "Pentagon's Cyberstrategy" he wrote for Foreign Affairs.

Framing the policy debate in these terms could help focus efforts where they would bear most fruit, and help policymakers prioritize how they spend cyber dollars.

"Every year, an amount of intellectual property many times larger than all the intellectual property contained in the Library of Congress is stolen from networks maintained by U.S. businesses, universities, and government agencies," Lynn wrote in the upcoming September/October issue.

He pointed to the disclosure earlier this year by Google that hackers operating from China had stolen intellectual property from the company's networks, and that the corporate espionage operation targeted dozens of other companies.

"As military strength ultimately depends on economic vitality, sustained intellectual property losses could erode both the United States' military effectiveness and its competitiveness in the global economy," Lynn said.

The cyber threat, he said, "does not involve the existential implications ushered in by the nuclear age," but cyber attacks offer a way for adversaries to overcome U.S. advantages in conventional military power and "could paralyze U.S. society all the same."

In the long run, he said, "hackers' systematic penetration of U.S. universities and businesses could rob the United States of its intellectual property and competitive edge in the global economy."

By Ellen Nakashima  | August 20, 2010; 11:39 AM ET
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Let's not forget, either, that hackers from all over are widely believe to "pwn" most law-enforcement information systems. In the recent "spies next door" case, for example, there are those who suggest that the only reason that the FBI was able to catch them was because the FBI's information systems are largely "pre-internet" and are thus inaccessible to online transnational hackers. But that probably doesn't hold true for "widely internetworked" systems operated by various state and local government agencies.

Posted by: thardman | August 20, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Well, rather than making things up, why not focus on the easily provable and unfortunately prevalent number of people who refuse to update their operating systems, or run anti-virus software...

People 'widely believed' the planet was flat at one time. It's not like suddenly the curvature of the Earth become suddenly visible after everyone decided that well perhaps they were wrong about that flat planet idea...

Posted by: Nymous | August 20, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse
The net-neutrality ending deal with Verizon is just the beginning of Google’s plans to kill the open and free Internet as part of their takeover agenda to completely control the world wide web and force independent media websites, radio and TV shows out of existence for good.

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Posted by: PaulRevere4 | August 21, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

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