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."
| August 20, 2010; 11:39 AM ET
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