A "soft target" is "a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack."
The terms "soft target" and "hard target" are flexible in nature and the distinction between the two is not always clear. However, typical "soft targets" are civilian sites where people congregate in large numbers; examples include national monuments, hospitals, schools, sporting arenas, hotels, cultural centers, movie theaters, cafés and restaurants, places of worship, nightclubs, shopping centers, and transportation sites (such as railway stations, buses, rail systems, and ferries). Soft targets are contrasted with hard targets, which typically restrict access to the public and have "sufficient security countermeasures in place to provide a high degree of protection against an attack." Examples of hard targets include airports, government buildings, military installations, foreign embassies, and nuclear power plants.
Terrorist groups "overwhelmingly" choose to strike soft targets. Of terrorist attacks worldwide from 1968 to 2005, 72% (8,111) struck soft targets and 27% (4,248) struck hard targets. The intent of attacks on soft targets is not only "to kill or injure" but also "to generate terror, create chaos, and intimidate" the public.Clark Kent Ervin notes that attacks on soft targets inflict psychological damage. Ervin also notes: "The harder we harden hard targets, the more likely an attack on a soft target becomes." In 2011, while preparations were being made for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the deputy commissioner of London's Metropolitan Police Service noted that "If you secure the venues so the opposition [terrorist] can't get in, they will look for a soft target like parallel events linked to the Olympics but with less security."