Rethinking Secrecy in Cyberspace

37 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2016 Last revised: 18 Feb 2018

See all articles by Michael Poznansky

Michael Poznansky

University of Pittsburgh

Evan Perkoski

University of Connecticut

Date Written: November 23, 2016


Cyberspace affords attackers unprecedented opportunities to carry out operations while masking their identities. Yet, some actors forgo these opportunities altogether and willingly claim credit for their attacks. To date, however, the literature has done little to explain this variation. This article explores the motivations behind voluntary credit claiming for the two main actors in cyberspace: states and politically-motivated nonstate actors. We argue that states are most likely to claim credit for their operations, and to do so privately, when the goal is to coerce an adversary. Nonstate actors, on the other hand, are likely to claim credit for most attacks and to do so publicly to showcase their capabilities, influence public opinion, and grow their ranks. We use case narratives to assess the plausibility of our argument and find strong support. This article places cyberspace operations in conversation with the larger literature on secrecy in international relations, and it advances a common framework for understanding how both states and nonstate actors operate in this evolving domain.

Keywords: Covert Action, Clandestine Action, Secrecy, Cyberspace, Cyber Warfare, Deception, Nonstate Actors

Suggested Citation

Poznansky, Michael and Perkoski, Evan, Rethinking Secrecy in Cyberspace (November 23, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Michael Poznansky

University of Pittsburgh ( email )

135 N Bellefield Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

Evan Perkoski (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut ( email )

365 Fairfield Way, U-1024
Storrs, CT 06269-1024
United States

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