Macron Rushes to Shore Up French Cyber Defenses After Attacks

President Emmanuel Macron said the importance of cybersecurity was brought into focus by recent cyberattacks on two French hospitals, as he announced plans to bolster France’s defenses and inaugurate a cybersecurity center in Paris to showcase the country’s expertise.

The ransomware attacks on the hospitals -- in Villefranche-sur-Saone in central France and in Dax in the south west -- crippled information systems and put the hospitals in a position of “vulnerability,” Macron said during a press conference on Thursday after speaking with hospital officials.

Such attacks pre-date the pandemic but Macron said hackers have been more active in recent weeks and months, in France and across the globe. “The threat is serious, and sometimes vital, and it touches all sectors,” said Macron, who was himself targeted by hackers during the presidential campaign.

Calling cyber defense “a priority,” Macron said his administration has been working on confronting the threat since 2017, and is now accelerating those efforts. That includes boosting police and judicial cooperation, earmarking around 500 million euros ($600 million) to help companies and public authorities boost their cyber defenses, and funding research and development.

Cyber Center

Later this year, Macron will open a new cybersecurity center in Paris’s financial district. The space spans 20,000 square meters (215,278 square feet) and is owned by 60 different entities operating in cybersecurity. It will host 1,500 researchers and people working for private companies or the government. The inauguration was originally set for 2020.

Macron’s goal is to triple the annual sales of French cybersecurity companies to 25 billion euros in 2025 from 7.3 billion euros in 2019, and double the number of jobs in the sector by 2025.

Referring to cyber attacks, the French president said “we’re learning about these new attacks, some coming from states as part of new conflicts between nations, others are coming from mafias.” And while some have “criminal” or “lucrative” motives -- which he said was the case of the hospital attacks -- others are designed to try and “destabilize” countries, he added.

Macron didn’t mention a report earlier this week by ANSSI that linked a large cyberattack to Russian hackers. The campaign breached software firm Centeron which counts Airbus SE, Orange SA and Electricite de France SA as its customers in a campaign that began in late 2017 and continued into 2020. The company said the vulnerability may have been in an “old, open-source version” of its product, and not the software sold to corporations.

Russia has dismissed the suggestion it was involved.

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