Cybersecurity in International Relations: Interwoven Technical and Geopolitical Aspects

Course content

Cyberspace is profoundly shaped by the technical features of information technologies, what they constrain, and what they enable. This is also true for the security threats, vulnerabilities, and cyberattacks that can occur in the cyber domain.

This course aims to provide a comprehensive abstract knowledge in International Relations (IR) and cybersecurity, while combining it with a necessary technical understanding of the concrete workings of cyberspace and their security implications. This is complemented with a practical knowledge of cybersecurity matters throughout history and up to nowadays.

The first half of the semester is devoted to general approaches to the international politics of cybersecurity. This includes traditional approaches from strategic studies, with topics such as cyberwarfare and deterrence, as well insights into the social construction of security threats, followed by critical and poststructuralist interventions into the field.

In the second half of the semester, the course will delve into specific subjects including the role of private actors, critical infrastructure, the security of everyday devices, Internet censorship, privacy and data collection, blockchain applications, and quantum technologies.


Bachelor: 7,5 ECTS

Kandidat: 7,5 ECTS

Learning outcome


  • Attendees will emerge with a deep knowledge of IR theoretical advances and debates on cybersecurity from a wide range of approaches
  • They will be aware of the historical development of cyber incidents, cybersecurity policies and norms regulating them
  • They will acquire an adequate understanding of the technical aspects of information security in order to grasp their political and security implications.



  • Attendees will be able to expose the interconnection between the technical and geopolitical aspects of cybersecurity
  • They will be trained to move beyond the hyperboles surrounding cyberwarfare and appraise how concretely realistic different scenarios are from both technical and political perspectives



  • Attendees will be prepared to expand IR knowledge on cybersecurity from both problem-solving and critical angles
  • They will have developed expertise on cybersecurity to advise the policy world in a down-to-earth and pragmatic way

Each class is similar in structure and is divided into five general parts.

1 – Peer discussion of the week’s assigned readings
2 – Student presentations related to the week’s topic, and feedback
3 – Technical explanations necessary to situate and understand the topic
4 – Lecture on the IR concepts and debates involved
5 – Empirical illustrations and peer discussion of the week’s lesson

One class in the middle of the semester is devoted entirely to student presentations, in order to prevent them from overrunning onto the lectures.

  1. 1. Introduction: technical basics, ICT history, and cyber IR

Lessig, Lawrence. 1999. Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books.

Choucri, Nazli, and David D. Clark. 2019. International Relations in the Cyber Age. MIT Press.

  1. 2. Traditional cyber strategic studies I: the politics of cyberwarfare

Perkovich, George, and Ariel E. Levite, eds. 2017. Understanding Cyber Conflict: Fourteen Analogies. Washington, D.C: Georgetown University Press.

Kello, Lucas. 2017. The Virtual Weapon and International Order. Yale University Press.

Valeriano, Brandon, and Ryan C. Maness. 2015. Cyber War Versus Cyber Realities: Cyber Conflict in the International System. Oxford University Press.

  1. 3. Traditional cyber strategic studies II: technical constraints in cyberwar

Libicki, Martin C. 2009. Cyberdeterrence and Cyberwar. Rand Corporation.

Rid, Thomas, and Ben Buchanan. 2015. ‘Attributing Cyber Attacks’. Journal of Strategic Studies 38(1–2): 4–37.

Nye, Joseph S. 2017. ‘Deterrence and Dissuasion in Cyberspace’. International Security 41(3): 44–71.

Gartzke, Erik, and Jon R. Lindsay. 2015. ‘Weaving Tangled Webs: Offense, Defense, and Deception in Cyberspace’. Security Studies 24(2): 316–48.

  1. 4. Cyberattacks: some case studies

Farwell, James P., and Rafal Rohozinski. 2011. ‘Stuxnet and the Future of Cyber War’. Survival 53(1): 23–40.

Russell, Alison Lawlor. 2014. Cyber Blockades. Georgetown University Press.

  1. 5. Representing, constructing, and securitising cyber threats

 Hansen, Lene, and Helen Nissenbaum. 2009. ‘Digital Disaster, Cyber Security, and the Copenhagen School’. International Studies Quarterly 53(4): 1155–75.

Dunn Cavelty, Myriam. 2013. ‘From Cyber-Bombs to Political Fallout: Threat Representations with an Impact in the Cyber-Security Discourse’. International Studies Review 15(1): 105–22.

Eriksson, Johan. 2001. ‘Cyberplagues, IT, and Security: Threat Politics in the Information Age’. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management 9(4): 200–210.

Dunn Cavelty, Myriam. 2007. Cyber-Security and Threat Politics: US Efforts to Secure the Information Age. Routledge.

  1. 6. Space, time, ignorance: critical & poststructuralist approaches

Balzacq, Thierry, and Myriam Dunn Cavelty. 2016. ‘A Theory of Actor-Network for Cyber-Security’. European Journal of International Security 1(2): 176–98.

Aradau, Claudia, and Tobias Blanke. 2015. ‘The (Big) Data-Security Assemblage: Knowledge and Critique’. Big Data & Society 2(2): 205395171560906.

Stevens, Tim. 2016. Cyber Security and the Politics of Time. Cambridge University Press.

  1. 7. Student presentations
  3. 8. Private actors and governance

McCarthy, Daniel R. 2018. ‘Privatizing Political Authority: Cybersecurity, Public-Private Partnerships, and the Reproduction of Liberal Political Order’. Politics and Governance 6(2): 5.

Carr, Madeline. 2016. ‘Public–Private Partnerships in National Cyber-Security Strategies’. International Affairs 92(1): 43–62.

Christensen, Kristoffer Kjærgaard, and Karen Lund Petersen. 2017. ‘Public–Private Partnerships on Cyber Security: A Practice of Loyalty’. International Affairs 93(6): 1435–52.

  1. 9. Critical infrastructure and cybersecurity in the everyday

 Aradau, Claudia. 2010. ‘Security That Matters: Critical Infrastructure and Objects of Protection’. Security Dialogue 41(5): 491–514.

Dunn & Christensen 2020, Securing 'the Homeland': Critical Infrastructure, Risk and (In)Security

  1. 10. Internet filtering and censorship

Deibert, Ronald J. 2003. ‘Black Code: Censorship, Surveillance, and the Militarisation of Cyberspace’. Millennium: Journal of International Studies 32(3): 501–30.

Deibert, Ronald, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain. 2008. Access Denied : The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering. The MIT Press.

  1. 11. Privacy and data breaches

Solove, Daniel J. 2005. ‘A Taxonomy of Privacy’. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 154: 477.

Ohm, Paul. 2009. ‘Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization’. UCLA Law Review 57: 1701.

Schwartz, Paul M., and Daniel J. Solove. 2011. ‘The PII Problem: Privacy and a New Concept of Personally Identifiable Information’. New York University Law Review 86: 1814.

Bigo, Didier, Engin Isin, and Evelyn Ruppert. 2019. Data Politics: Worlds, Subjects, Rights. Routledge.

Finnemore, Martha, and Duncan B. Hollis. 2016. ‘Constructing Norms for Global Cybersecurity’. American Journal of International Law 110(3): 425–79.

  1. 12. Information warfare and social media

Golovchenko, Yevgeniy, Mareike Hartmann, and Rebecca Adler-Nissen. 2018. ‘State, Media and Civil Society in the Information Warfare over Ukraine: Citizen Curators of Digital Disinformation’. International Affairs 94(5): 975–94.

Giles, Keir. 2016. The Next Phase of Russian Information Warfare. NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence.

Winter, Charlie. 2017. Media Jihad: The Islamic State’s Doctrine for Information Warfare. London: International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College.

  1. 13. Cybercrime, the blockchain and the “dark web”

Amoore, Louise, and Marieke De Goede. 2005. ‘Governance, Risk and Dataveillance in the War on Terror’. Crime, Law and Social Change 43(2): 149–73.

Filippi, Primavera, and Benjamin Loveluck. 2016. ‘The Invisible Politics of Bitcoin: Governance Crisis of a Decentralised Infrastructure’. Internet Policy Review.

  1. 14. Quantum technologies

Recordings of the Q5 Symposium. 2019. Project Q, University of Sydney.

Wendt, Alexander. 2015. Quantum Mind and Social Science. Cambridge University Press.

Der Derian, James. 2009. Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment-Network. Routledge.

Preliminary technical knowledge of computer science (beyond a normal use of everyday digital technologies) is not required. It is however advisable to have some background knowledge in IR theory and security studies, including realist strategic studies, constructivism, securitisation theory, and poststructuralist approaches to IR.

Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)

Students will receive peer and teacher feedback on their presentations. This includes both presentation skills and the academic quality of the paper itself. Teacher feedback on the paper will be in written form.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28