In the 1995 movie The Net, Sandra Bullock fights computer hackers attempting to cyber-sabotage her life. The hackers successfully change her identity, manipulate U.S. markets, and access the private personal data of U.S. officials. While the clunky looking computers, cell phones, and storyline in the movie are joked about today, cyber terrorism is a real—and much bigger—threat 16 years later.

Protecting America is no longer just a matter of diplomacy and sending armed forces overseas to fight. In the past 10 years, national defense has become a multifaceted intelligence enterprise, requiring additional expertise against nuclear, cyber, and chemical threats from our enemies.

Last week, the Pentagon announced that cyber attacks can now be declared an act of war, proving that these technological arenas are part of a 21st-century battlefield requiring a sharp, pre-emptive strategy and dedicated online soldiers.

Case in point: Defense contractor Lockheed Martin publicized last weekend that it was the target of a major cyber attack. It reported no significant intelligence lost, but the case serves to remind us of the potential vulnerability of critical defense data.

Last year’s WikiLeaks scandal also left everyone feeling susceptible to vital privacy intrusion, and though the U.S. has developed some cybersecurity strategies, we haven’t gone far enough.

As retired army Lieutenant Colonel and current Representative Allen West (R–FL) said last week in an exclusive interview with The Heritage Foundation, “there are three levels of the battlefield: the strategic, the operational, and the tactical.”

The United States has not mastered the levels in cyberspace or on the modern battlefield, as technology changes quickly and we often have an unclear objective or definitional enemy. No longer is national security relegated to protection from individual nations. Now, we are faced with anonymous individuals and small groups of non-state actors employing hard-to-predict strategies and difficult-to-locate origins.

Heritage’s Paul Rosenzweig makes comparisons to the online and physical combat zones, asserting, “The methods for confronting these cyber insurgents will be different from those used to confront armed insurgents in the real world, but the principle should be the same.”

The consequences of cyberwar are too dire for the United States to wait and learn from our mistakes. If we begin losing the cyberbattles frequently, it may mean the end of America as we know it. A country’s security data is a virtual weapon, and without it, we are defenseless.

The FBI reported another cyber crime yesterday, announcing the shutdown of an Atlanta-based Web site that tracks cyber crime. These reports will become more frequent as cyber terrorists learn new skills. As Rosenzweig writes:

The current capabilities of organized non-state actors in cyberspace are relatively modest.… This state of affairs is unlikely to hold for long.… [S]ignificant real-world effects can already be achieved by sophisticated cyber actors. It is only a matter of time until less sophisticated non-state actors achieve the same capability.

And while congressional systems have withstood any major hackings thus far, those involved in protecting them must be vigilant and prepared. “It is a never-ending battle because we know that our adversaries are constantly—by the tens of thousands of times—trying to break through our firewalls,” Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance Gainer said.

The United States has great intelligence capabilities and should use that to over-prepare now for the cyber terrorism wars to come.

West noted that America needs a national security roadmap—and that includes a separate map for online security, because it is a separate battlefield. We need “a lay down of the potential fault lines and adversaries we have to face and we match requirements to that.”

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