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Computer network exploitation (CNE) refers to

enabling operations and intelligence collection capabilities conducted through the use of computer networks to gather data from target or adversary automated information systems or networks.[1]
[a]ction taken to make use of a computer or computer network, as well as the information hosted therein, in order to gain advantage.[2]
the use of a computer network to infiltrate a target computer network and gather intelligence.[3]


CNE is

an area of Information Operations that is not yet clearly defined within DOD. Before a crisis develops, DOD seeks to prepare the IO [information operations] battlespace through intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and through extensive planning activities. This involves espionage, which in the case of IO, is usually performed through network tools that penetrate adversary systems to return information about system vulnerabilities, or that make unauthorized copies of important files. Tools used for CNE are similar to those used for CNA, but configured for intelligence collection rather than system disruption.[4]

"CNEs are intrusive, involving unauthorized entry into a network, but do not necessarily cause damage. . . . As an enabler, a CNE not only gathers information, but can map networks for future attacks and can leave behind backdoors or malware designed to execute or facilitate an attack."[5]

The term CNE has been replaced by "advance force operations" "when used to describe cyberspace operations intended to support/facilitate a specific planned operation or set of operations via clandestine means, e.g., by delivery of software payloads that may facilitate preparation of the battlespace and/or provide effects in support of an operation."[6]


  1. U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Pub. 1–02: DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Nov. 8, 2010, as amended through May 15, 2011) (full-text).
  2. NATO Standardization Agency, NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions 2-C-12 (2008) (full-text).
  3. National Cyber Security Strategy 2016 to 2021, Glossary, Annex 2, at 74.
  4. Information Operations, Electronic Warfare, and Cyberwar: Capabilities and Related Policy Issues , at 5.
  5. Information as Power: China's Cyber Power and America's National Security, at 7.
  6. Joint Terminology for Cyberspace Operations, at 2.

See also[]