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Espionage and War in Cyberspace


Admission requirements

  • Only students of the MSc Crisis and Security Management, enrolled in the specialisation ‘Cybersecurity Governance’, can take this course.


This course adopts a perspective rooted in the disciplines of political science and international relations to investigate the global politics of cybersecurity. It focuses on the key research skill of writing a ‘literature review’: mapping, understanding, and critiquing the body of knowledge on espionage and war in cyberspace. This is a highly transferable skill, relevant to academic and professional environments, as it requires students to conduct independent study, summarise their findings accurately, and identify problems and make connections without direct guidance. Students with this skill should also be a more discerning consumer of information in all walks of life, to society’s overall benefit.

In terms of content, this course traces how the internet has transformed interstate relations and introduced many new actors onto the scene – from transnational corporations to troll farms and tech-savvy activists. It explores the probability of cyberwar and reflects on the hype around it. It also critically analyses the world of digital espionage, where governments and companies steal secrets remotely for profit, security and power. Finally, it looks beyond corporate and statist lenses on international politics to address the impact of cyber conflict elsewhere, in areas such as human rights and gender politics.

Course Objectives

After finalizing this course, students will be able to:

  1. Critically study, search, sort, prioritise, synthesise and assess the body of knowledge on specific topics in the global politics of cybersecurity, including a clear conceptual framework, a comprehensive account of relevant literature and assessment of its quality, a discussion of fundamental debates and gaps in knowledge, including a succinct synopsis and to present the results of this individual research project in the form of a written academic report (the literature review).
  2. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge about issues in the global politics of cybersecurity, such as cyberwar, cyberespionage, disinformation and human rights, and advanced knowledge of the social and political dynamics of cybersecurity at an international level, including how the label ‘cybersecurity’ is constructed and used.
  3. Identify and analyse in a timely manner new developments in the global politics of cybersecurity, such as new laws and policies, new cyberattacks or new techniques of surveillance.
  4. Identify and apply relevant theoretical or analytical frameworks and methodologies to analyse real life issues in the global politics of cybersecurity.
  5. Present arguments and analyses on the global politics of cybersecurity in a format appropriate for a broader professional audience and as input to expert groups.
  6. Provide strategic analysis and advice to decision-makers and develop awareness of the challenges of functioning in a complex academic or professional environment.
  7. Self-evaluate and reflect after interactive in-class work and individual assignments.


On the right side of programme front page of the E-guide you will find links to the website and timetables, uSis and Brightspace.

Mode of Instruction

A combination of interactive lectures and activating workgroups (two sessions per week). In the lectures, students will learn the key principles of research, and the relevant concepts and methodologies. In the workgroups, students will practise research design and methods by applying the concepts, testing theories, and analysing empirical material. The workgroups will, amongst others, consist of in-class assignments, team performances, peer review and exercises and feature several compulsory formative (non-graded) assignments that will help the student prepare for the summative (graded) assignments.

Attendance is not mandatory, but highly recommended in order to pass the course. Active participation during the sessions therefore is strongly recommended to pass this course.

Total study load: 280 hours.
Contact time: 42 hours (21 hours lectures, 21 hours group exercises).
Non-contact time: 238 hours self-study: reading, preparing lectures, assignments, etc.

In this 10 ects course, 4 ects is specifically reserved for the assignment that is going to be part of the portfolio of students, including working on their interim reflection paper as preparation for the final reflection paper. Specific information on the portfolio assignment and the intended learning outcomes that are being acquired will be published in the syllabus of this course.

Assessment method

Students are not obliged to hand in an assignment at the first opportunity in order to make use of the re-sit opportunity. The re-sit assignment will test the same course objectives, but will be different in terms of topics, cases or substance.

Written assignment (literature review paper), 50% of final grade
Grade cannot be compensated, a 5.50 is required to pass the course

Assignment (exam), 30% of final grade
Course can be compensated in case of a fail (grade < 5.50), resit not possible.

Group exercise, 20% of final grade
Course can be compensated in case of a fail (grade < 5.50), resit not possible.

Additional, formative (non-graded) assignments are an obligatory part of the course.

The calculated grade of the assignments must be at least 5.50 in order to pass the course.
If a student passed an assignment, it is not possible to participate in a re-sit in order to obtain a higher grade. Students are only permitted to resit the 50% assignment if they have a calculated overall course lower than 5.50.

Reading list

A selection of books and articles, to be announced on Brightspace.


Register for every course and workgroup via uSis.
Registration in uSis is possible from four weeks before the start of the course. Some courses and workgroups have a limited number of participants, so register on time (before the course starts). In uSis you can access your personal schedule and view your results.

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. Important information about the course is posted here.
After enrolment for the course in uSis you are also enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.


dr. James Shires