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Key Terrain: Application to the Layers of Cyberspace

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Technical Report,01 Mar 2017,01 Mar 2017

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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The concept of key terrain is a common fixture in military strategy and tactics. The emergence of cyberspace, with characteristics unseen in any warfighting domain, challenge the concepts value. This work is a conceptual analysis that examines the applicability of key terrain in the cyber domain. To determine if key terrain applies in cyberspace, we examine key terrain in traditional physical warfighting domains to understand the concept and draw comparisons. Each of the three layers of cyberspace is examined to determine if the concept of key terrain applies and to identify challenges presented when applying the concept. The result of this work finds key terrain to hold value and applicability within cyberspace. Key terrain can be found at each layer of cyberspace but with some considerations. Cyber key terrain requires constant reassessment, exists only under certain conditions, and can present difficulties in terms of measuring seizure and retention of terrain in cyberspace. The conclusion additionally finds that while cyberspace is unique, it does not require a cyber-specific key terrain definition. We recommend that changes be made to future doctrine, institutional education, and leader development in an effort to provide clarity when using traditional military concepts such as key terrain in cyberspace.

Subject Categories:

  • Geology, Geochemistry and Mineralogy
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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