Cyber Pearl Harbor

What Does Cyber Pearl Harbor Mean?

Cyber Pearl Harbor refers to a potential cyber attack that some people believe threatens U.S.-based IT infrastructure and related services. The term was coined in 2012 by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and aims to relate the intensity and potential devastation of a major cyber attack with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, a surprise military attack by the Japanese Navy against the U.S.


Cyber Pearl Harbor is a term that implies that the U.S. faces an attack and, perhaps, cyberwarfare with an aggressive nation or terrorist organization.

Techopedia Explains Cyber Pearl Harbor

According to Panetta, Cyber Pearl Harbor is cyberspace attack that could disable a substantial proportion of IT services throughout the U.S. and/or among its ally countries. The primary objective behind such an attack would be to take control of major IT infrastructure, spread a digital virus, delete or steal highly confidential data, illegally transfer funds and/or carry out virtually any act with the potential of substantially damaging IT assets. If Cyber Pearl Harbor were to occur, it could result in a serious loss of IT services, thus affecting many government, business and other key infrastructure that relies on IT.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.