Via these attacks, the Chinese gain access to valuable U.S. intellectual property, insights into how the U.S. economy works, and an increasing ability to interrupt the functions of individual companies, important elements of our critical infrastructure and significant sources of America's strength and security. And while we will publicly denounce them, we are tempered in our criticism because we know we are doing the same thing worldwide. The most famous illustration of these is the "Olympic Games" initiative against the Iran nuclear program -- better known as Stuxnet -- which was designed by the U.S. and our allies to do via streams of electrons what did not wish to do with commandos or bombers and that is disrupt Iran's progress toward creating an atom bomb. Almost certainly, the successor to Olympic Games is now in play or will be ratcheted up as we seek to find ways to both "engage" and pressure the Iranians simultaneously.
And as we do that to them, they will also seek to do it back to us. When you drop a bomb on a country, it not only devastates its target -- it also disintegrates. But when you launch a worm against a facility, that worm or its elements remain intact and discoverable and thus re-usable by the victim of the attack. In other words, while cyber conflict may avoid "hot" exchanges, it has to date produced almost constant escalation.
It should also be noted that cyber intrusions will become ever more effective and difficult to defend against in the world of big data and "the Internet of things" that we are entering. With the combination of ubiquitous sensors and data-gathering mechanisms, unlimited memory and massive processing capabilities, the planet's ocean of bits and bytes is growing ever larger and each and every company is becoming a data company. Each will have ever-greater data assets to protect, and each will face ever-greater data liabilities should it fail to protect them. That is why so many companies that have never been engaged in these issues are now not only looking to hire companies like Mandiant, they are becoming deeply interested in the future of cyber policies -- from the White House's recent executive order to issues like Internet governance and privacy protection.
The Cool War is of course, not just limited to the possibility of permanent phantom warfare via cyber attacks. It goes further, to the ongoing discussion of the use of unmanned agents of surveillance and destruction, such as drones. All these new technologies make it easier for the technologically empowered to strike out against and dominate adversaries without putting human lives or hard military assets at risk -- or to give their traditional forces special advantages when they do enter conflict, thus reducing risk. The purpose of the Cold War was to gain an advantage come the next hot war or, possibly, to forestall it. The purpose of Cool War is to be able to strike out constantly without triggering hot war while also making hot wars less desirable (much as did nuclear technology during Cold War days) or even necessary.
That's not to say there will be no hot wars. But it does suggest that in the world of Cool War, they will be fewer and they will take place against a backdrop of a new, different, constant kind of warfare. Instead of killing adversaries, the new technologies allow for the possibility of just giving them a nasty fever, of reducing their capacity, of confusing them, of depriving them of key assets when necessary. It also, of course, gives technologically advanced countries a great edge over those without the same resources.
It's early days. It's a new game. Undoubtedly, it is one that will involve many twists and turns and may undercut some of the assumptions that have led Chinese and U.S. planners to think that playing at this new game is indeed safer than old approaches. But it is impossible to read stories like the one in Tuesday's Times without concluding that we are in the midst of a sea change in the way nations project force.