When will China emerge as a military threat to the U.S.? In most respects the answer is: not anytime soon—China doesn’t even contemplate a time it might challenge America directly. But one significant threat already exists: cyberwar. Attacks—not just from China but from Russia and elsewhere—on America’s electronic networks cost millions of dollars and could in the extreme cause the collapse of financial life, the halt of most manufacturing systems, and the evaporation of all the data and knowledge stored on the Internet.
The authorities I spoke with pooh-poohed as urban myth the idea that an electronic assault was behind the power failures that rippled from the Midwest to the East Coast in August of 2003. By all accounts, this was a cascading series of mechanical and human errors. But after asking corporate and government officials what worried them, I learned several unsettling things I hadn’t known before.
It is well-funded and pursued by mature individuals and groups of professionals with deep financial and technical resources, often with local government (or other countries’) toleration if not support. It is already responsible for billions of dollars a year in losses, and it is growing and becoming more capable. We have largely ignored it, and building our military capabilities is not responding to that threat.