* Focus on secure lines and network surveillance
* France lagging behind NATO partners in cyber defence
* Aims to help government, companies, banks boost security
By Marine Pennetier
PARIS, Feb 7 France unveiled plans on Friday to
bolster long-neglected defences against cyber attacks, with 1
billion euros ($1.36 billion) of investment foreseen to bring
the country's technology up to speed with NATO partners.
Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian presented measures
including roll-outs of secure telephones, encryption technology
and network surveillance to harden sensitive computer systems
now exposed to hacking and espionage.
The spending aims to build up France's ability to fend off
mounting cyber attacks and bolster surveillance after years of
neglect. The issue has taken on more urgency in the wake of
former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's disclosures about US
cyber surveillance practices.
"This is a priority for the defence ministry because our
operational capacity, our ability to conduct operations, can be
gravely threatened by cyber threats," Le Drian said. "I'm
referring to weapons systems, command and control, information
and the systems that link them together."
Most of the money will go toward shoring up security at the
defence ministry and its strategic partners, which were targeted
by some 800 cyber attacks in 2013 amid unprecedented
belt-tightening for the military, according to a presentation
the defence ministry posted online.
But funds will also go to building up web monitoring and
personal data collection. Parliament passed a law in December
empowering the state to request data from telecoms operators and
web providers, in some cases without asking a judge, drawing
criticism from web and privacy activists.
"France has only woken up to these risks very recently,"
said Jean-Francois Bezel, president of the IT consultancy
Safaris and a specialist in cyber security. "The main thing
today is to protect companies that are crucial to the state's
functioning, as well as government and banks, and to promote
best practices in security."
France, which spends more money on its military than any
other European nation except Britain, has given itself two years
to catch up with its allies on cyber defences.
Some 400 million euros of the total 1 billion will be used
to equip strategic firms with means to protect and encrypt data,
detect hacking and monitor internal networks. The ministry
document did not specify if it had certain firms in mind.
The military will set up a centre to train personnel in
cyber defence near the northwestern city of Rennes, home to the
Saint-Cyr officer school, with a research arm to develop
France's first offensive cyber security weapons.
Staff at the military's CALID cyber defence unit will be
increased six-fold, while specialised lawyers will be trained to
usher legal complaints through the judicial system, which rarely
produces convictions for cyber security-related crimes.
"We are able to identify the source of the attack, but
bringing proof in judicial terms is very difficult because
conscientious hackers will cover their tracks by bouncing their
attacks off servers located around the world," said Guillaume
Poupard, head of information systems security at the defences
ministry's procurement agency.
Of the 800 attacks targeting French interests in 2013,
Poupard said most had been attempts to snoop or disable web
sites, with none aiming to incapacitate battle-ready units like
ships or fighter planes.
"The goal is really to ensure that no attack ever hits the
strategic heart of our operations, including attacks that come
from very high levels," he said, without specifying which entity
or country might be behind such high-level attacks.
France also aims to boost information-sharing with allies in
NATO, which last June launched the first reaction force to
deflect cyber attacks targeting the alliance's computer systems.
($1 = 0.7353 euros)
(Writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Tom Heneghan)