French officials are concerned about the threat of cyber-attacks on the country's upcoming elections.
The director of the French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems, Guillaume Poupard, recently told news agency FRANCE 24 that he's expecting it: “We're clearly not up against people who are throwing punches just to see what happens. There's a real strategy that includes cyber, interference and leaked information.”
The elections will be held in April and May 2017, seeing a number of candidates battle it out for the presidency. Marine Le Pen, avowed admirer of Russian president Vladimir Putin and leader of the far right party National Front, is expected to do well.
Poupard added that French agencies like the one he heads may be better prepared to deal with interventions like those suspected in America: “It wasn't very natural for American intelligence agencies to communicate to the broader public. It's not easy for them, they can't say much without running the risk of revealing how they obtained their information.”
Jean Yves Le Drian, minister of Defence and Veteran's Affairs, said last week that it would be naive to think that France wasn't a target for cyber manipulation around the country's upcoming elections.
He also took the opportunity to confirm that the French Army would be doubling its roster of ‘digital soldiers' by 2019, supported by 600 cyber-security experts.
According to Reuters, Le Drian added that France should not only be able to defend itself against cyber-attacks but proactively strike, too, and with conventional weapons if needs be.
Last week, the head of German domestic intelligence, Hans-Georg Maassen, made similar comments to news agency, Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The intelligence chief called for clear powers to retaliate against cyber-aggressors and to proactively defend the country rather than merely waiting to be attacked in cyberspace.
Such comments have been made against a backdrop of heightened security around a series of terrorist attacks in recent memory as well as the fallout from the recently concluded American elections, in which accusations of cyber manipulation still abound.
If those fears are justified, what form that manipulation might take is not clear. The cases in contention in America concern breaches of members of the Democratic Party and the subsequent leaking of private correspondence. The hacking of voting machines was alleged, but not aired in quite as much detail as the breaches on the Clinton campaign and the Democratic party.
If, as most US intelligence agencies allege, Russia did attempt to sway the election by compromising one of the candidates, then it's still not quite clear what effect the breaches had on the election, Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of High-Tech Bridge, told SC Media UK.
“I seriously doubt that any cyber-criminals can change the results of elections in such a well-developed country as France. Obviously, they can cause minor disruptions, however saying that hackers can fraudulently elect a new president, is like saying that gangs in a Paris suburb can defeat the French army.”However, added Kolochenko, “We should all be aware of the risks associated with modern technologies, such as e-voting and mobile voting, especially the risks related to such an important process as a presidential election.”