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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’ or 'Intelligence and National Security', can take this course.


This course adopts a perspective rooted in the disciplines of political science and international relations to investigate espionage and war in cyberspace. 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 and cyber espionage elsewhere, in areas such as human rights and gender politics.

Course Objectives

After finalising this course, students will be able to:

  1. Critically study, search, sort, prioritise, synthesise and assess the body of knowledge on specific topics relating to espionage and war in cyberspace, 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, and a succinct synopsis. Students will be able 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 relating to espionage and war in cyberspace, such as cyber conflict, 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 relating to espionage and war in cyberspace, 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 relating to espionage and war in cyberspace.
  5. Present arguments and analyses on espionage and war in cyberspace 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 studyguide 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

Assessment for this course is based on three assignments:

Written assignment (literature review paper)

  • 50% of final grade

  • Grade cannot be compensated, a 5.50 is required to pass the course

  • Resit possible

  • Resit will take the same form

Assignment (exam)

  • 30% of final grade

  • Grade must be compensated in case of a fail (grade < 5.50)

  • Resit not possible

Group exercise

  • 20% of final grade

  • Grade must 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 overall course grade must be at least 5.50 in order to pass the course. If the calculated overall course grade is lower than 5.50, students are also permitted to resit the 50% written assignment.

In the case of written assessment methods, the examiner can always initiate a follow-up conversation with the student to establish whether the learning objectives have been met.

Transitional Arrangement
Passed partial grades obtained in year 2022-2032 remain valid during year 2023-2024.

Reading list

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


Register yourself via MyStudymap for each course, workgroup and exam (not all courses have workgroups and/or exams).
Do so on time, before the start of the course; some courses and workgroups have limited spaces. You can view your personal schedule in MyTimetable after logging in.
Registration for this course is possible from Wednesday 12 July 13.00h

Leiden University uses Brightspace as its online learning management system. After enrolment for the course in MyStudymap you will be automatically enrolled in the Brightspace environment of this course.

After registration for an exam you still need to confirm your attendance via MyStudymap. If you do not confirm, you will ultimately be de-registered and you will not be allowed to take the exam.

More information on registration via MyStudymap can be found on this page.


dr. Simon Willmetts

dr. Jelena Vicic

dr. Damien van Puyvelde

Lena Riecke