AMERICANS so far have missed the significance of more than 100 cyber attacks launched at U.S. targets by a team of hackers connected to China's military.
If the report made by the Mandiant firm is accurate, the increasing waves of cyber intrusions by a foreign power represent a threat to corporations and vital government services within the United States. Cyber war has not yet broken out, but enemies are freely infiltrating what should be secure sites.
President Obama issued a little-noted executive order two weeks ago that seeks cooperation from and offers incentives to U.S. companies dealing with the government on cyber security issues. It would be far better to have a U.S. law setting up a line of cyber defense, but Congress failed to pass legislation last year due to concerns about how to safeguard corporate information and individual privacy.
Some politicians were more afraid that sensitive information might fall into our own government's hands than they were about sensitive information that already has been accessed by China.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright warned more than a year ago that there have to be consequences for cyber intrusions. He said passive, defensive systems will not address the problem.
Others have warned that water systems, electric companies, phone systems, private transportation systems and a vast array of other vital services are at risk of attack. Those warnings have not resulted in a unified effort to address the threat.
Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security because cyber attacks do not involve the presence of enemy combatants on American soil.
It took an attack on Pearl Harbor to galvanize public opinion and bring the nation into World War II. It would be a tragedy if cyber espionage was not taken seriously until an attack occurs.
Computer security is complicated. It does not translate well for the average person, or the average member of Congress. That cannot be an excuse.
Congress needs to take action to create laws that treat cyber attacks as threats to national security. The United States must urge the United Nations to adopt rules prohibiting cyber warfare. Corporations should recognize the need to stop cyber intrusions from all sources.
Just as unmanned drones changed the war on terrorism a few years ago, computer espionage threatens to bring a new battle onto American soil. Ignoring the threat is not an option.