Google "cyber Pearl Harbor", and Google identifies tens of thousands of documents with that phrase. I've been hearing the phrase for almost as long as I have been in cyber security. It is almost always used with the sense that the cyber equivalent of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is just around the corner.
But I claim that it has already happened. Or more precisely, the Information Operation Pearl Harbor has already happened, and cyber attacks played a significant role.
17 US intelligence agencies agreed that Russia actively interfered with the US elections [NPR] and, according to Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Russia did so to help Donald Trump get elected [CNN].
And to gain a greater understanding on how you (and your neighbors) can be targeted by a skillfully executed information operation, read this article about some of the targeted information being collected about you in order to shape how you think and perceive the world.
The lapse in security was striking for putting at risk the identities, voting histories and views of voters across the political spectrum, with data drawn from a wide range of sources including social media, public government records and proprietary polling by political groups.
Chris Vickery, a risk analyst at cybersecurity firm UpGuard, said he found a spreadsheet of nearly 200 million Americans on a server run by Amazon's cloud hosting business that was left without a password or any other protection. Anyone with Internet access who found the server could also have downloaded the entire file.
In all, the leaked files amount to more than 1,000 gigabytes of data — more than four times the size of any previous breach of this type, according to Vickery. The exposed data also contained records of voters' views on specific issues including gun control, abortion and environmental issues, he said. Overall, Vickery said, there were billions of data points and 170 GB of social media posts scraped from Reddit alone.
"They're using this information to create political dossiers on individuals that are now available for anyone," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "These political data firms might as well be working for the Russians."
Democracies are very vulnerable to information operations, and Putin has figured this out. Why should an enemy drop bombs like the Japanese did in Pearl Harbor when they can achieve their political goals through information operations?