While many have characterized these alleged breaches by the Chinese as "cyber warfare," Barnett believes that the situation is much more analogous to sea piracy.
"Back in the 1400s there were great improvements in navigation and there was a lot more commerce at sea. Immediately after that, you saw piracy spring up and piracy was a major aspect of sea commerce for about 300 years until nations developed tools and laws to fight it," Barnett explained. "Today, we hear about piracy, but it is generally a front page story because it is so unusual. There are different places in the world where it exists, but no one would say it’s a major factor in commerce at sea. Right now, the Internet is a domain that’s like a new ocean… but there’s piracy and we have to develop the organization, laws and the tools to be able to coordinate among the nations to fight it. But we’re really at the beginning of that."
Despite the severity of this issue and the increasing frequency with which our networks – both public and private – are being intruded upon, many people still don’t take it that seriously. Barnett pointed out that after every major disruption we’ve had as a country, the government has been reorganized after the fact to better respond to it such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. If we don’t wake up to the current dangers posed by state-sponsored cyber attacks, be it from China or some other nation, we will likely be reorganizing the government again and creating another bureaucracy to deal with the threat.