France uses cyber weapons on the battlefield. From data theft for intelligence purposes to taking remote control of a weapon system, the range of actions is wide.
Cyberwar is already a reality. If a few years ago no army boasted of carrying out attacks by implementing computer means to destroy or neutralize adverse systems, and even less of being a victim of them, the discourse is changing.
A general, former chief of staff of the French armies, recognized in June 2019, during a hearing before the senators, the use of the cyber weapon: “Regarding the Opex [opérations extérieures, ndlr] and the danger for these forces, where the adversary is able to act in the cyber field, we use this weapon as a weapon of the battlefield […]. We know how to disorganize an enemy, position it, deal with it. We commonly use this tool. It requires resources and specialists, but gives us a very clear advantage in the Sahel or the Levant. The word was freed since France had just, a few months earlier, formalized its cyberattack doctrine military, a new field of action modestly renamed offensive computer warfare by the Ministry of the Armed Forces.
The progressive evolution of the doctrine
France has indeed adopted since the beginning of 2019, a new doctrine in cyberspace. In the event of aggression, the country no longer forbids itself to retaliate by using digital weapons to neutralize or destroy objectives. Experts based in Bruz are specifically in charge of developing these new cyberattack software. They are also able to listen to secure communications by exploiting weaknesses in the architecture of the cabling, or even to analyze satellite images in an automated way thanks to artificial intelligence.
The armies also intend to strengthen their capacities in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) to process the gigantic volumes of data that come from all of its information sources (drones, satellites, electromagnetic intelligence, etc.). In terms of AI, investments of around 10 million euros per year currently will increase to 100 million euros per year from 2022.
Great discretion on digital weapons
You still need to have tools in your arsenal. In France, this is the challenge of the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA), whose primary mission is to equip the forces. In Bruz (Ille-et-Vilaine), where it has its main cyber defense center, its experts are developing these digital weapons in the greatest secrecy. What do they look like? What are the desired effects? Unsurprisingly, the armies are silent on this.
The tricolor doctrine vaguely indicates that military cyberattacks can strike hardware equipment as well (servers, processors, etc.), intangible assets (computer data, software, etc.) for intelligence purposes in particular, or to target the users of these computer resources. However, cyber fighters envision very concrete attack scenarios. For example, the neutralization of the anti-aircraft defense of the adversary by hacking the radars, or downright the remote control of the motorization of a frigate, which would become uncontrollable.
The cyber weapon remains difficult to use, in particular because of the risks of uncontrolled propagation. As shown in 2010 by the example of the computer worm Stuxnet, the design of which is attributed to the NSA, the American national security agency, which benefited from the support of the Israeli army. If the worm has reached its target and damaged nearly a thousand centrifuges of the Iranian nuclear program, it has also spread in Europe and Asia. “With cyber weapons, as with other weapons, collateral damage must be avoided at all costs”.
the TEOREM, designed and manufactured by Thales. Led by the DGA on behalf of the General Secretariat for Defense and National Security (SGDSN) and the General Staff of the Armed Forces (EMA), this delivery program aims to equip the high authorities of the State with encryption telephones. , the armed forces and various ministries dealing with classified defense information. A nice market for Thales since the DGA has ordered more than 14,000 terminals, including 7,000 for the armies. TEOREM allows its users to make clear and secure communications up to the “secret defense” level, in France and abroad. The correspondent is authenticated using a digital certificate and the telephone displays the level of sensitivity of the communication (unprotected, confidential defense, secret defense). Its government cryptographic algorithms and components.
A cyber factory to innovate with civil actors
Cyber defense is one of the armed forces’ stated priorities. During the period 2019-2025, the ministry will devote 1.6 billion euros to it and will recruit 1,100 cyberfighters. Brittany is the main location for this expertise with 1,600 specialists out of the 4,000 that the ministry will have by 2025. About fifteen km south of Rennes, in Bruz, the center of the DGA (General Directorate of Armaments ) concentrates the expertise of the armies in the field of electronic communications and digital technologies. It is therefore an essential outpost for understanding the new forms of warfare in cyberspace and how the country is preparing for it.
In Rennes, the army also wants to open up to academic and private players grouped together within the cyber center of excellence. She is aware that in terms of cybersecurity, innovation is strongly driven by the civilian sector. The Cyberfactory. This is a 200 m2 open space located in the Courrouze business park. Typically, the DGA, the ComCyber will share data with manufacturers to improve the performance of computer security algorithms. The Cyber factory will also host a technology incubator with the aim of supporting cyber experts from the Ministry of the Armed Forces wishing to develop their own businesses..
The Ministry of the Armed Forces is already a target for cyberattackers. As of September 2018, the ministry had counted around 700 cybersecurity incidents, the same as in the entire previous year. “Cyber warfare has begun and France must be ready to participate in it (…). France uses and will use cyber weapons in its military operations” specified in January 2019 the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly. At the end of 2017, an attacker had sought to access the content of the mailboxes of around twenty ministry executives, including high-level personalities. Its goal: to recover data on the French Navy’s fuel supply chain.
Armaments contractors targeted by cyber attackers
The Ministry of the Armed Forces is also concerned about the vulnerability of its weapon system suppliers, both large manufacturers (Airbus, Dassault Aviation, MBDA, Naval Group, Nexter, Safran, etc.) but above all their chains of subcontractors. made up of SMEs.
Testing the resilience of Eastern European countries
That the war in Ukraine is pushing Europe to step up its cyber defense cooperation isn’t just reflected in the rhetoric. From 7 to 11 March, the Council of Europe, through its CyberEast programme, organized with the European Commission a cyberattack response exercise, in particular intended to test the resistance of the countries of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. “In the light of current events, strengthening capacities in the field of cybercrime and cybersecurity is more important than ever”, justifies the Council of Europe in its communicatedspecifying that this regional cyber exercise also aims to understand the ability of the cybersecurity community, mainly represented by CERTs (computer attack alert and response centers), and police-justice bodies to cooperate.
Who says European cyber defense also says sovereign solutions. This aspect of the debate also emerged, when the German authority in charge of cybersecurity recommended abandoning software from the Russian company Kaspersky. His fear: that Moscow will use this publisher to carry out a salvo of cyberattacks against Europe. Less alarmist, the National Information Systems Security Agency (Anssi), the reference authority in France, called “in the medium term, to consider a strategy of diversification of cybersecurity solutions”. In the long term, this could push Europe to develop its cybersecurity industry.
But the control of the cyber weapon is not an end in itself, if it does not articulate with the strategic dimension of the global war which seeks to reach the Chief of Staff of the armies, Thierry Burkhard, in mastery of all human tools and sensors. Note in this regard that the premature departure of General Eric Vidaud of his post as director of military intelligence underlines the shortcomings of French intelligence on the follow-up of the Ukrainian file.
Yvan Essam Foe
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The positioning of the cyber weapon in the military arsenal
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