EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

February 25, 2013

Column: Hackers chip away at U.S. national security

Ann McFeatters

This is how World War III is likely to start: with cyberwarfare.

The Chinese — government, military, commercial companies, random hackers, take your pick — have been hacking into the computers of our aerospace companies, financial institutions, media companies and businesses for a decade. Thousands of secrets have been stolen.

But hacking is now so perniciously widespread that the United States is seriously worried. The White House says our economic well-being and our security are threatened. Theft of U.S. secrets is now more damaging than any military action China could take against us.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who ran the CIA and was a former White House chief of staff, said the other day: “It is very possible the next Pearl Harbor will be a cyberattack ... (which) would have a hell of an impact on the United States.”

At risk are our defense secrets, our energy grid, our infrastructure and countless business secrets. An estimated 115 U.S. companies have been hacked in the last six years, losing information and innovative ideas to theft and potentially greatly lessening their competitiveness.

Companies used to deny being hacked or try to hide it; more recently, they are angrily coming forth to denounce it. General Motors, DuPont, Coca-Cola, American Superconductor, Google, RSA Security, Lockheed Martin and Nortel Networks are just a few of the companies that have gone public. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times also have been hacked.

Attorney General Eric Holder says there are only two categories of companies affected “by trade-secret theft — those that know they’ve been compromised and those that don’t know it yet.”

While China is a bad offender, other nations hack, too, most notably Russia. The United States also hacks, although our interests lie more in trying to figure out what shenanigans such countries as Iran are plotting.

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