A Theory of Offensive Cyberspace Operations and Its Policy and Strategy Implications


  • Gazmend Huskaj Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Fredrik Blix Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University, Kista, Sweden https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9925-1592
  • Stefan Axelsson Department of Computer and Systems Sciences, Stockholm University, Kista, Sweden https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9085-4469




Cyberspace Attack, Cyberspace Exploitation, Offensive Cyberspace Operations, Policy and Strategy


The significance of Offensive Cyberspace Operations (OCO) in cyber warfare and national security is increasingly recognised, yet academic literature lacks a dedicated theoretical framework to fully articulate its unique aspects and strategic dimensions. Traditionally enveloped within the broader context of information warfare, OCO's distinct characteristics have often been overlooked. Addressing this gap, our paper aims to delineate the specificities of OCO and establish a structured conceptual model that enhances understanding and operational clarity. To achieve this, the study adopts an interpretive approach, drawing from existing literature on information warfare and cyberspace, alongside official U.S. government and military publications on cyberspace operations. Employing the theory-building method, we focus primarily on conceptualization. This involves creating a coherent conceptual framework through abstraction, synthesis, and diagramming, informed by seminal works in the field. Among the paper's key contributions are detailed conceptual models that shed light on OCO's integration within the broader cyber domain, the influence of U.S. policy and strategy on OCO, and the critical triad for successful operations: access, vulnerabilities, and payloads. Furthermore, we elucidate the primary and secondary components of OCO, specifically cyberspace attack and exploitation, offering new insights into their roles and implications. Thus, the framework includes conceptual maps highlighting OCO's key elements, relationships, and challenges, aiming to advance academic discourse, practical strategies, and policy in cyberspace operations. This effort marks a significant step forward in both theoretical engagement and practical application within the field.