Guidelines for creating a CONOP Brief

A Concept of Operations (CONOP) is a critical document that outlines a commander’s intent and plan for a cyber operation. This document helps to ensure that all associated parties are on the same page, and also serves as a point of reference for future operations. By creating a CONOP, a commander or team leader can better assess and mitigate risk, while also clarifying the desired outcome of the operation.

Disclaimer: This post is intended to support students of MCSI learn Cyber Operational Planning (COP). The purpose of COP is to ensure that a squad can achieve its objectives in cyberspace.

Overview

A CONOP Brief is a short presentation that commonly includes the following:

  • Background of the situation
  • Who the opposing forces are (if applicable)
  • What is the goal of the operation
  • What are the risks and possible consequences
  • How will the operation be executed
  • What are the lines of communication and where do they stand

This document is important in order to make sure all members of the cyber operation are on the same page and understand the objectives of the operation.

Content

Your CONOP Brief should:

  • Describe the “Ends”: Why are we doing this? What is purpose of the mission? What are the conditions we need to reach?
  • Describe the “Ways and Means”: How do we complete the tasks? With what actions, resources, authority, restrictions and limitations?
  • Describe “Success”: How will we know that we have successfully accomplished the mission? How do we assess/measure the success?
  • Describe the “Risks”: Identify and present the Critical Risks associated with the mission (technical, operational, human). Develop Avoiding and Contingent Actions to mitigate each Critical Risk. What is the chance of failure, or unacceptable consequences when performing actions? How will we identify them? Is there an acceptable level of failure?

Graphics

When creating a CONOP Brief for cyber operations, consider including the following graphics:

  • Network topology and diagrams
  • Situation maps
  • Timelines
  • Attack Trees
  • Threat Models
  • Gantt Charts
  • Flow Charts
  • Cause-Effect Charts

We recommend that you look into the various sorts of diagrams that are typically used in IT and project management and utilise those that you believe would help stakeholders understand the cyber operation better.

Have a look at draw.io if you’re looking for a free tool to create powerful graphics.

Outline

The following is a suggested outline for an offensive cyber CONOP Brief:

  • Introduction
  • Mission Statement
  • Goals and Objectives
  • Organizational Structure
  • Mission Functions
  • Timelines, Milestones and Deadlines
  • Risks and Contingent Actions
  • Conclusion

Describe how will the operation be executed

A slide or more should explain how the operation will be carried out. For an offensive cyber operation, for example, you should specify the cyber maneuvers that will be carried out and their desired effects.

Adhere to presentation best practices

When creating slides, keep the following best practices in mind:

  • Use lists instead of paragraphs to organize your ideas
  • Limit each slide to one idea or concept
  • Use visual aids like images and charts to make your points clear
  • Make sure your text is legible from a distance
  • Keep your slides concise and to the point
  • Avoid technical jargon
  • Describe the proposed operation from the squad’s perspective (i.e. “we will do this and that”)

Poor presentation causes us to fail students on a fairly regular basis. It’s not enough to simply follow the steps outlined in this post. Create a visually appealing CONOP Brief that is simple to read and comprehend.