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Study information

The International Law of Cyber Operations

Module titleThe International Law of Cyber Operations
Module codeLAWM163
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Kubo Macak (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Cyberspace is surprisingly difficult to define, but there is no question that it has become a venue of strategic competition and contestation among States and other stakeholders. Incidents such as Stuxnet, WannaCry, or NotPetya have been dominating the headlines, raising the questions of attribution and accountability for the havoc they have wreaked around the world. Meanwhile, over 100 States have been developing military cyber capabilities, many of which have already been put to use in wartime including in the ongoing armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Against this fast-evolving and complex backdrop, this module is designed to equip you with a deep understanding of how international law governs – and thus restricts – cyber operations both in peacetime and during armed conflict. We will explore how existing international legal concepts such as sovereignty, non-intervention, or State responsibility apply in the cyber context and what practical consequences this entails. We will also delve into the application of international humanitarian law to cyber operations during armed conflicts, with a particular focus on the question of protection of civilian data, the trend of civilianization of military cyber activities, and the regulation of information operations.

By completing this module, you will position yourself as a desirable candidate for professional opportunities in the fields of international law, diplomacy, and cybersecurity.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module is designed to provide a practice-oriented survey of the international law applicable to cyber operations involving States and other key actors. Once you complete it, you will have a clear understanding of the legal framework for these operations during both peace and war, and you will be equipped to apply the relevant rules to real-world situations. The module will include engaging in-class exercises, which will bring to life the legal concepts from our readings and discussions.


The module aims to give you the necessary legal, theoretical, and contextual background to understand a variety of topics related to the application of international law to cyber operations. These include the principles of sovereignty, non-intervention, and due diligence in cyberspace, as well as the question of how States are held accountable for their actions in cyberspace. We will also delve into the use of cyber force in the context of permissible self-defence and the application of international humanitarian law to cyber operations during armed conflicts. Finally, we will explore the current trends of civilianization of military cyber operations and the use of digital means for the purposes of influence operations.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate deep and systematic knowledge and understanding of the challenges and uncertainties that arise concerning the application of international law to different types of cyber operations;
  • 2. Undertake complex critical evaluation of the growing body of State national positions on the application of international law in cyberspace against the backdrop of the theoretical and conceptual framework in the existing international legal scholarship;
  • 3. Identify, explain and evaluate legal problems posed by the development of cyber capabilities by States and other stakeholders and critically relate these to the regime of international law;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Demonstrate detailed and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of a range of legal concepts, principles, institutions and procedures and the ability to evaluate systematically the relationships among them;
  • 5. Demonstrate deep and systematic knowledge and understanding of general principles of law and critical awareness of their contextual and political implications;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Communicate effectively, confidently and autonomously in a range of complex and specialised contexts;
  • 7. Work independently, effectively, and manage time efficiently in preparing for scheduled learning activities, exercises and assessments.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction to International Law of Cyber Operations
  • Sovereignty and Due Diligence in Cyberspace
  • State Responsibility and Countermeasures in Cyberspace
  • Jurisdiction over Cyber Activities and Non-Intervention in Cyberspace
  • Use of Cyber Force and Self-Defence Against Cyber Armed Attacks
  • Classification and Geography of Cyber Conflict; Question of Applicability of IHL
  • Cyber Attacks and the Question of Objects in Cyberspace
  • Status of Persons and Cyber Hostilities; Challenge of Civilianization
  • Information Operations
  • Cyber Exercise

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1510 x 1.5 hour lecture-led seminars
Guided Independent Study50Reading assignments
Guided Independent Study35Preparation for formative assessment
Guided Independent Study50Preparation for the summative assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1000 words1-7Written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002000 words1-7Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (2000 words)Essay (2000 words)1-7August/September Reassessment Period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Michael Schmitt (ed), Tallinn Manual 2.0 on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Operations (2nd edn, CUP 2017)
  • François Delerue, Cyber Operations and International Law (CUP 2020)
  • Nicholas Tsagourias and Russell Buchan (eds), Research Handbook on International Law and Cyberspace (Edward Elgar 2021)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Cyberspace, Cyber Operations, Cyber Warfare, Digital Technologies, International law, Non-State actors, State responsibility

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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