Should we be worried about a cyber war?

Tuesday - 10/26/2010, 2:26pm EDT

In his article in the New Yorker, Seymour Hersh wrote about the EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance plane's mission in China, and how the incident highlights U.S. vulnerabilities to cyber attacks.

In 2001, EP-3E was on an eavesdropping mission in the South China Sea when it collided with a Chinese interceptor jet. The Americans were able to erase the plane's hard drive but did not destroy it, leaving some data retrievable.

Navy experts doubted China could reverse-engineer the plane's operating system, estimated at between thirty and fifty million lines of computer code. Hersh wrote, "Mastering it would give China a road map for decrypting the Navy's classified intelligence and operational data."

It wasn't until 2008 that the U.S. realized the extent of the Chinese intelligence intercepts. The Chinese sent a "barrage of intercepts" to communications links known to be monitored by the National Security Agency. The intercepts included details of planned American naval movements.

The EP-3E fallout has led to a debate within the Obama administration: Should the response to cyber attacks come from the military or civilians? And if it's the military, what are the consequences on privacy and civil liberties?

"Will cyber security be treated as a kind of war?" Hersh asked.

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