Macron announces €1bn security package after cyberattacks on French hospitals

President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday promised a €1bn package to strengthen France's cyber defence, following several attacks on hospitals.

Macron announces €1bn security package after cyberattacks on French hospitals
President Emmanuel Macron as he presented the accelerated national cybersecurity strategy on February 18th. Photo: AFP

Macron said the attacks on two hospitals in less than one week revealed the urgency of the threat and that his government was making it a “priority”.

“The cyber attacks in Dax and Villefranche-sur-Saône confirm the importance of taking cybersecurity very seriously,” the president said in a series of tweets after having spoken to representatives from the hospitals by video call earlier that day.

“We need to go further, faster, to be at the forefront,” Macron said. “In total, €1 billion will be invested.”


The hospitals in Dax, a town in the south western département of Landes, and Villefranche-sur-Saône, which is near Lyon in the south east, were paralysed when hackers broke into their computer systems on February 9th and 15th respectively, demanding ransoms.

No ransoms were paid, but for hours patient files, phones, surgical equipment and more was blocked. Staff worked on pen and paper and surgeries had to be pushed back.


Is this a big problem?

Cyber attacks are a growing threat worldwide and in France the number of attacks directed at “vital operators” quadrupled in 2020, rising from 50 to 200, according to the French National Agency of Information System Security (ANSSI).

Of all the attacks last year, 27 (11 percent) were on hospitals, and in 2021 hackers continue their efforts to target the country's health establishments.

“We have one (hospital cyber attack) per week since the beginning of 2021,” Digital Economy Minister Cédric O told the French TV channel BFM on Thursday, referring to the latest report by ANSSI.

“It's extremely serious,” O said, referring to the dangers of having health systems paralysed on any day, but especially in the midst of a pandemic.

“It's a crisis within the crisis,” Macron said.

The information systems manager at the Hospital of Dax, Gilbert Martin, told French newspaper Le Parisien that “it will take days, even weeks, to get back to normal.”

Who are the hackers and what do they want?

Macron, whose party La République en Marche itself was victim of cyberattacks during the 2017 presidential elections, said the goal depends on the groups conducting the attacks.

“We're learning about these new attacks, some coming from states as part of new conflicts between nations, others are coming from mafias,” the president said.

Some cyberattacks are financially motivated, but others – like the Russian hacks uncovered in the run-up to the 2016 United States presidential election – aim to destabilise countries.

Only a small portion of all cyber attacks are ransomware, Guillaume Poupard, director of Anssi, told Le Monde.

France's national cybersecurity agency on Monday accused Russia of staging a cyber attack on French companies, after discovering links to Russian intelligence services and a hack on the software firm Centeron. Russia denied the allegations, saying they were “absurd”.

How will the money be spent?
Macron said his government would accelerate efforts to bolster the country's national cyber defence capacities, both by helping companies improve their own systems and by funding research.
Of the total €1 billion, €720 will be state funding with the goal of doubling the number of cybersecurity jobs in France by 2025, and tripling the sector's revenue, from €7.3 billion to €25 billion, over the same time frame.
The president promised €500 million to fund research and help companies improve their technologies and develop more robust cyber defence systems.
A new cybersecurity centre is set to open in the business district La Défense in Paris later this year, after being delayed by the pandemic. Spanning 20,000 square metres the centre will host 1,500 researchers, as well as public and private sector employees, to, in the president's words, “reunite all skills.”



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Macron calls for stricter Twitter controls on Covid disinformation

French President Emmanuel Macron criticised Twitter's new boss Elon Musk on Thursday, saying the entrepreneur was wrong to drop the fight against Covid disinformation as he slashes back content moderation on the platform.

Macron calls for stricter Twitter controls on Covid disinformation

With his country facing a fresh surge in coronavirus infections, Macron said the subject of misleading Covid information should be addressed head on, not swept under the rug.

“I think this is a big issue,” Macron, on a state visit to the United States, told broadcaster ABC. “What I push very much, for one, is exactly the opposite: more regulation.”

He said such protections have been implemented and enforced in France and “at the European level.”

Freedom of expression remains paramount, Macron insisted, “but there is responsibilities and limits” to what can be written and disseminated.

“You cannot go into the streets and have a racist speech or anti-Semitic speech,” the French leader said. “You cannot put at risk the life of somebody else. Violence is never legitimate in democracy.”

Macron’s concept of freedom of expression within acceptable limits is far from the libertarian approach of Musk, a self-described “free speech absolutist” who has sacked many of the Twitter employees tasked with content moderation.

Musk has begun to allow Twitter users banned from the platform for posting disinformation, such as former US president Donald Trump, to return.

And it emerged this week that Twitter has stopped enforcing a rule preventing users from sharing misleading information about Covid-19 and vaccine effectiveness.

The billionaire Musk has made no secret of his fierce opposition to health restrictions put in place to fight the pandemic, especially when they meant the temporary shuttering of his Tesla electric vehicle factory in California.

“To say that they can not leave their house and they will be arrested if they do… this is fascist. This is not democratic, this is not freedom,” Musk raged in April 2020 on a conference call with analysts.

On Wednesday the European Union issued a sharp warning to Musk, saying he must do “significantly” more to fight disinformation, such as reinforcement of content moderation, in order to comply with EU law.

“There is still huge work ahead” for Twitter, said Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for the internal market.