02/15/2013 09:59 am ET Updated Apr 17, 2013

Cyber Warfare

I spent a lifetime in the military and, while I love the officers and troops without reservation, I hate the greed and poor judgment that motivates certain segments of the military-industrial complex to focus on technology without calculating the cost or impact on our nation's economy.

A case in point was the great uproar about the supposed Y2K calamity that would befall our nation when we embarked upon the new century because computers allegedly were trapped in the previous century. Many of us were skeptical about it, but the greedy people hyped it all out of proportion to persuade our government to spend billions on automated data processing equipment that was not needed. It was money down a rat hole, money that should have been spent on real problems. I have seen this antic ritual acted out many times over the years.

I see the same thing happening again in the great uproar over the so-called cyber war. There are legions of self-proclaimed security experts out there raising fears about cyber-attacks and seeking opportunities to sell Uncle Sam more billions in equipment that we do not need and cannot afford.

There is no question that the world harbors many bad actors who are constantly striving to compromise national security, and even more who are trying to steal proprietary information from U.S. businesses. Every company of any size, and many smaller ones, must invest huge sums protecting their networks from digital pirates.

But there is not nor can there ever be a definitive security system that will totally assure digital security, any more than there can be absolute security for bank vaults. There is an endless war of attrition between the digital pirates and those with proprietary information, and as in every war we will have victories and defeats. The question we must always address - one that I wrestled with most of my career - is how much security is enough, and how much security we can afford.

We must all live with the possibility of being robbed or burglarized, but that does not mean each of us must have an armed security guard walking along with us when we go to the grocery store, or sentries standing guard of our homes when we are away. There comes a point when the costs of additional security outweigh the benefits, and begin to compromise the quality of life we are trying to achieve.

Modern digital technology is a wonderful thing with great potential to enhance the quality of life, and national security, but technology will never be a viable substitute for human judgment.

Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications," published by The History Publishing Company.