Recent Defense Department reports on Chinese computer network operations in 2007 should be a clear indication that the United States needs to step up its cyber defense policy to address a growing threat to its national security.

As reported by Heritage’s John Tkacik back in December, “the Department of Homeland Security received 37,000 reports of attempted breaches on government and private systems…and more than 80,000 attempted attacks on Department of Defense computer network systems.” Although it is difficult to pinpoint where many of these cyber attacks originate from, there is a common consensus among U.S. officials, the commercial sector and intelligence agencies in the U.K., France and Germany that an increasing majority of these attacks appear to be originating from the People’s Republic of China, many of which emulate state-sponsored computer network exploitation.

As reported in the LA Times, the emerging threat of computer network operations, or CNO, against government and private sector systems “are consistent with recent military thinking in that country (China).” Chinese officials periodically refer to Integrated Network Electronic Warfare, or INEW, which appears to be China’s response to U.S. Network Centric Warfare (NCW). Although very similar in practice and doctrine to NCW, INEW also incorporates kinetic strikes against C4 nodes, which includes satellites. Not only do the alleged Chinese cyber attacks bear a resemblance to recent Chinese military thinking on theories such as ‘Assassin’s Mace’, People’s War and “defeating the superior with the inferior”, but the inclusion of ‘kinetic strikes on C4 nodes’ in the definition of INEW also repudiates the recent China-Russia initiative to develop a new outer space treaty.

At what point do the expressions ‘cyber attack’, ‘cyber espionage’ and ‘cyber terrorism’ lose their seemingly redundant prefix and stimulate a reform in U.S. defense policy capable of applying deterrence, pre-emption, counter-strike and active defense to a new wave of threats from both state-sponsored and non-state threats?

Estonia’s defense minister described the recent cyber attack on his country as “It can effectively be compared to when your ports are shut to the sea.” This begs the question as to how would the U.S. respond if another state positioned subs around its ports and attempted to block naval and commercial activity? Cyber warfare may take place in a distinct geographical medium; however the principles of war and the threat to U.S. national security should and do remain.

Read more in a report on the issue.