France gets serious over ‘Snowden syndrome’ and cybersecurity

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Brittany in northwest France is best known for its crepes and apple cider. This weekend, it also became the site of the biggest cyberattack in French history.

The assault – a state-orchestrated simulation at the country’s top military academy in Coetquidan to test efforts for withstanding such an event – was also designed to show off French national security savoir faire.

Fifteen months after Edward Snowden showed how successfully the US National Security Agency managed to snoop on world communications, including those of leaders of allies, the muscle-flexing exercise in Brittany was part of efforts to tighten digital security and ensure that local firms reap the rewards of demand for more cyberprotection. France is enforcing a new cybersecurity law aimed at defending vital businesses.

“Call it the Snowden syndrome,” said Erwan Keraudy, founder of CybelAngel, a Paris-based start-up that makes software to monitor hacks and data leaks. “French companies are now thinking twice before buying US or Chinese technology. There’s rising consciousness, and the new law is providing a road map to beef up cybersecurity.”

Under the new law, the government will require that the 200 entities most vital to the country’s economy, such as power provider Electricite de France, boost security using home-grown technology and experts, or risk being fined.

In essence, the country is bolstering Le Chiffre, the old nickname of France’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems.

The agency has become the front line in the country’s cybersecurity battle and is putting local companies at the heart of its push.

The agency is now setting up certification plans to promote security controls and the use of security products, he said, adding that the national cybersecurity industry should come up with more solutions.

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This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as France gets serious over ‘Snowden syndrome’