A sliding scale of secrecy: toward a better understanding of the role of publicity in offensive cyber operations
In recent years, offensive cyber operations are becoming another tool among many in the diplomatic toolbox of states, with countries discussing cyberattacks more openly than before.
In recent years, offensive cyber operations are becoming another tool among many in the diplomatic toolbox of states, with countries discussing cyberattacks more openly than before. This change in practice from covertness to openness warrants a closer look at the interests and motivations of countries in ‘going public’.
This paper offers a conceptual framework for understanding why attackers and defenders might choose publicity over secrecy, and analyzes the possible outcomes of choosing each. The framework is examined through a series of mutual cyberattacks and intrusions between Iran and Israel during 2020–2021 serving as an illustrative case study.
The research demonstrates that each strategy along the axis spanning from silence to full publicity and attribution is enabled by, or serves, a particular set of circumstances on both the defender and attacker’s sides. Each combination reflects a particular dynamic, demonstrating that the choice of strategy is more evolved than an outdated silence-or-publicity perception.
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