An Offensive Future?

The role of offensive cyber capabilities and operations is growing in importance as more states engage in, and formalise, how they are engaging in cyberspace. This is more important as investments in defensive and offensive capability building increase, ransomware increasingly disrupts businesses, organisations, and governments, and great power conflict grows. The Offensive Cyber Working Group – a UK academia-led initiative – is thus seeking contributions for in-depth analyses on the role of offensive cyber today and into the future. Selected contributors will be invited to an author workshop to develop their work before this is published as part of an edited collection to be published as a book and hosted on the Group’s ‘The Alert’ blog platform. This platform will act as a place to inform and offer serious discussion about offensive cyber both inside and outside of the UK.

As noted in a recent publication by the group – along with King’s College London Cyber Security Research Group and The Policy Institute[1] – the UK has formally launched its National Cyber Force, a joint military-intelligence unit dedicated to coordinating sovereign offensive cyber operations. Such organisations raise significant questions not only for the UK but for other states that are attempting to increase their footprint through cyber power. Questions criss-cross themes identified by the group’s scoping workshop in November 2020[2] covering strategy and policy, ethics and law, and techniques and implementation that include the state but also organisations and individuals. Thus, questions could cover but are not limited to:

  • When is it appropriate, legal, or ethical to engage in offensive cyber activity against an adversary?
  • Which organisations are (or should be) responsible for developing and deploying these capabilities, and what would an appropriate oversight and governance structure look like?
  • What is the impact of offensive cyber activity on sovereignty and broader international conflict – especially as international law and norms are appearing to align?
  • What does an ethics of offensive cyber look like?

We therefore invite contributions to reflect on the future of offensive cyber from a range of disciplinary backgrounds – as well as contributors from outside academia. Final contributions will range in length, but will not exceed 5000 words, and will be expected to be understood by a wide audience. If there is appetite by the contributors after they are published as part of ‘The Alert’, we will seek further development and publication options as part of either an academic journal or through a book proposal at a reputable publisher.

The author workshop will be closed and will take place virtually on 22nd September 2021 – and will be designed to discuss, reflect, and offer feedback on offensive cyber themes and research, including those outlined above. Those with accepted abstracts will be invited to prepare a short presentation, which will provide the basis for informal discussion and constructive feedback. Full papers will not be required, and the workshop welcomes discussion on early-stage research and projects-in-progress in addition to final stage papers/developed theories.

Please send a 300-word abstract to steering@offensivecyber.org by Friday 16th July. Please direct any questions to andrew.dwyer@durham.ac.uk or amy.ertan.2017@rhul.ac.uk.


[1] Devanny, Joe, Dwyer, Andrew, Ertan, Amy & Stevens, Tim (2021). The National Cyber Force that Britain Needs? Cyber Security Research Group / Offensive Cyber Working Group / The Policy Institute. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/policy-institute/assets/the-national-cyber-force-that-britain-needs.pdf.

[2] https://offensivecyberorg.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/ocwg_scoping_workshop_report.pdf

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