Our View: Harden cyber defenses

Once Internet thieves discovered how easy it is to steal a person’s credit card numbers and other valuable information, it was inevitable they would seek larger and more potentially lucrative victims. The U.S. government, for example.

A technology security company hired by The Washington Post recently reported that 115 U.S. government agencies and private companies had been hacked by Chinese cyber spies operating out of a Shanghai office building housing the People’s Liberation Army cyber-command unit.

The hackers have penetrated our nation’s most powerful institutions, including federal agencies, military contractors, congressional offices, news organizations and law firms. They have infiltrated systems that control our power grid and water systems.

That raises concerns about the potential for future high-tech terrorist attacks. But did the thieves have evil intentions, or were they stealing the trade secrets of leading U.S. innovators in science, aerospace and energy? No one seems to know.

We do know that hackers located in many countries, including our own, have been snooping and stealing for years. But the Chinese attack has been exposed as the latest and most aggressive ever detected.

The Obama administration has ordered improvements in U.S. cybersecurity, and the Pentagon’s own Cyber Command unit is taking aggressive countermeasures. We cannot move fast enough to strengthen our cyber protections and defenses.

Maybe China merely is engaged in old-fashioned industrial espionage to get an economic upper hand. But imagine what horrors a country with more sinister intentions could commit?