During the Cold War, the peace was assured by fear of the accepted concept of MAD - mutually assured destruction by nuclear weapons. It is doubtful Americans can rely on the cyber warfare equivalent - perhaps MACC, for mutually assured computer crash.
This week it became apparent the Chinese military has, in effect, launched a guerrilla war in cyberspace against the U.S. government and businesses in this country, using computer hackers. Both government and business secrets have been stolen.
Most people are unaware of how reliant we have become on computers and the Internet. The financial system could be crippled if Chinese hackers somehow find a way to interfere with electronic funds transfers. Distribution of electricity through power grids is controlled by Internet-linked computers. Air traffic control systems rely on computers. So does our military. The list goes on and on.
White House aides have suggested the U.S. may retaliate against China through measures such as trade sanctions. But there has been no recommendation we react by stealing Chinese secrets or damaging that country's computer-controlled systems.
Threatening to do so would be the equivalent of the MAD understanding between U.S. and Russian officials for many years - except that it might not deter Beijing. That is because China is not nearly as reliant on computers and the Internet as the United States. We have much more to lose than the Chinese in an all-out hacking exchange.
Experts have warned for years the U.S. lacks adequate defenses against cyber attacks.
Clearly, we are running out of time to devise some sort of shield against hackers or, perhaps a credible deterrent involving devastating retaliation.