China vs. U.S.: Online spying called "Cold War for the next generation"

(CBS News) The U.S. is the target of a massive cyber espionage attack, threatening the American economy, and government intelligence identifies China as the main culprit, according to a Washington Post report that.

The online spying is directed at companies with ties to military technology. But energy, finance and other industries have also been hacked over the past five years.

"It's the Cold War for the next generation," CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, former FBI assistant director, said. He added the problem appears to be "pretty widespread."

"When you take an NIE, National Intelligence Estimate, this is really the consensus of all 16 intelligence agencies on a problem, so this is going to be a fairly authoritative document that's sounding the alarm that China -- well, picture this -- two giant aircraft hangars full of military people who work 24/7 hacking into U.S. government databases, private corporation databases. ... They're working for the government. They're not doing it for anarchy. And here's the difference. We do that too, all countries do that. The difference -- I think the alarm the report sounds is China does it, not just for political and military secrets, they're stealing trade secrets to get China's economy ahead."

The U.S. cannot overestimate the damage, according to Miller. He explained, "We live in a global, competitive environment, and this kind of stealing can leapfrog them ahead of us in business, development, without having to spend the money or the capital for the research and development to get there."

Asked if the Chinese are better at hacking that the U.S., Miller said, "No, but they're not playing fair, and that's the key here."

For more with Miller on how the spying is perpetrated, watch the video in the player above.