Brent Scowcroft Center Nonresident Senior Fellow August Cole cowrites for Politico about why World War III would be unlike any other conflict:
When a series of technical glitches hit companies that ranged from United to the New York Stock Exchange this week, suspicions immediately ran to a cyber attack. Was this just the beginning of something much worse? A surprise attack, the beginning of long feared “cyber war” or the “cyber Pearl Harbor”? The irony that these worries were mostly expressed online at places like Twitter was not lost on many, but it points to how deeply they have become woven into the narrative of threats that surround us. Indeed it is notable that the discourse too quickly pointed the finger at hackers, rather than al Qaeda terrorists as would have been the default a decade back.
A key challenge in this new environment of fear is that terms like “cyber war” and “cyber Pearl Harbor” are tossed around today in politics and media with as much precision as the term “war” itself. There is a massive array of cyber threats out there, ranging from the 317 million distinct pieces of malware discovered by Symantec last year to credit card theft that has hit almost every major retail firm to advanced persistent threat campaigns that have penetrated literally every major corporation and government agency.