Key terrain in cyberspace: Seeking the high ground

David Raymond, Tom Cross, Gregory Conti, Michael Nowatkowski

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

11 Scopus citations


In military doctrine, key terrain refers to areas which, if seized, afford an advantage to an attacker or defender. When applied to geographic terrain, this definition is clear. Key terrain might include a hill that overlooks a valley an enemy wants to control or a crossing point over a river that must be traversed before launching an attack. By definition, dominance of key terrain is likely to decide the overall outcome of a battle. While cyber key terrain is similar to geographic key terrain in some ways, there are also significant and often counterintuitive differences. Some consider cyber terrain to be tied to a physical location and to be represented in cyberspace by routers, switches, cables, and other devices. We will argue that key terrain in cyberspace exists at all of the cyberspace planes, which include the geographic, physical, logical, cyber persona, and supervisory planes [1]. In many cases, features of cyber terrain will not be tied to a specific location, or the geographic location will be irrelevant. In this paper we deconstruct and analyze cyber key terrain, provide a generalized framework for critical analysis, and draw parallels between cyber and physical key terrain while providing examples of key terrain in cyber operations. During a cyber operation, an analysis of key terrain will aid in the strategy and tactics of both the offense and the defense. During peacetime, an understanding of cyber key terrain can be employed broadly, ranging from helping a system administrator focus scarce resources to defend his network all the way to allowing nation-state militaries to develop long-lasting and effective doctrine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Conference on Cyber Conflict, CYCON
EditorsPascal Brangetto, Markus Maybaum, Jan Stinissen
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9789949954407
StatePublished - Oct 3 2014
Externally publishedYes
Event2014 6th International Conference on Cyber Conflict, CYCON 2014 - Tallinn, Estonia
Duration: Jun 3 2014Jun 6 2014

Publication series

NameInternational Conference on Cyber Conflict, CYCON
ISSN (Print)2325-5366
ISSN (Electronic)2325-5374


Other2014 6th International Conference on Cyber Conflict, CYCON 2014


  • cyber operations
  • cyber terrain
  • key terrain
  • terrain analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications


Dive into the research topics of 'Key terrain in cyberspace: Seeking the high ground'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this