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Time to take cyber war seriously

Some other governments spare no effort to gain advantage over U.S. businesses and consumers. Trade barriers such as tariffs and unreasonable restrictions in the name of product safety are examples. But some — including China — are involved in all-out assaults on Americans.

Theft of U.S. companies’ trade secrets by the Chinese has been well publicized. But on Monday, another type of assault was revealed by the U.S. Justice Department.

Four members of the Chinese army have been charged with hacking into computer networks operated by the Equifax credit reporting company. In addition to stealing the firm’s database designs and other trade secrets, the hackers obtained confidential information on more than 145 million people, according to the Justice Department.

What use the thieves intended to make of the information may never be known. All four are in China. It is unlikely they will ever be taken into U.S. custody.

The Equifax hack is but one of many intrusions foreign operators in China and elsewhere have made into U.S. data systems. That is one way competitors learn American firms’ trade secrets and, in effect, turn the information against us.

And, of course, whenever U.S. officials protest such action, the culprits’ governments deny it or, on occasion, blame rogue criminals beyond their control.

What can be done about the problem? Clearly, foreign government behind such crimes can be held accountable — whether they are nominally U.S. allies or not.

In addition, U.S. computer systems must be kept as secure as humanly possible. One step in that regard is developing and using our own technology rather than adopting that offered to us with smiling faces by our foes. China’s 5G wireless neworking technology is one example. Countries that have adopted it may be easy prey for Chinese hackers.

Many Americans remember the Cold War, in which nuclear destruction seemed an ever-present threat. But now, we are well into an international cyber war — and it needs to be taken seriously.

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