Public Secrets: The Dynamics of Publicity and Secrecy in Offensive Cyber Operations

Gil Baram*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historically, offensive cyber operations (OCOs) have been considered a practice that states could carry out covertly, away from the public eye, with both perpetrators and defenders having incentives to remain silent. Over the past few years, however, perpetrators and defenders have publicly acknowledged their involvement in OCOs. How common is this strategic choice among states? What are its characteristics? In this research note I show that this is not a binary choice, and that there is variance in the strategies available to either side. I then examine what state behavior patterns can be identified by using compiled data of OCOs between 1996 and 2019. I show that this phenomenon of giving up secrecy is occurring and point out on states’ characteristics and probabilities of choosing each strategy. Initial findings show significant use of public strategies by perpetrators (20 percent) and more so by defenders (50 percent), and that democracies tend toward public credit claiming and attribution, while less democratic countries tend toward public denial. As governments increasingly engage in OCOs, the implications of this research note are of interest to scholars and practitioners alike.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberogad013
JournalJournal of Global Security Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • covert actions
  • cyberattacks
  • offensive cyber operations


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