France preparing for an election hack: but is the risk significant?

France24 reports that alarmed by allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential race, French authorities have warned political parties against the threat of cyber attacks as the country prepares to elect a new president in May.

With five months to go before the French presidential elections, the National Agency for the Security of Information Systems (L’Agence nationale de la sécurité des systèmes d’information or ANSSI) director Guillaume Poupard told FRANCE 24: “We’re clearly not up against people who are throwing punches just to see what happens. There’s a real strategy that includes cyber [attacks], interference and leaked information…These are people whom we’re obviously following closely. Even if we can’t be sure that they’re the same, they’re attackers who regularly come knocking on our ministers’ doors,”.

Headlines in recent weeks have been dominated by the suggestion that the US elections – where Donald Trump came out on top against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton – were undermined by state sponsored hackers from Russia.

>See also: Looking ahead to 2020 and the e-voting system

US intelligence services have in fact concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered hacks to destabilise Democratic candidate Clinton’s campaign so that Trump could win.

This fear of election manipulation has precipitated across the Atlantic to Europe. Like ANSSI’s director, France’s defence minister has warned in an interview on Sunday with newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that the presidential elections are at risk of manipulation by foreign cyber attackers, .

When asked in the interview if France could be targeted like the US elections, Jean-Yves Le Drian, responded: “Of course, one cannot be naïve.”

Le Drian said French security services had fended off 24,000 attacks in 2016, with several hundred targeting his ministry. He did not specify to what extent Russian hackers might have been responsible, but said there were “even attempts to disturb drones.”

“The threat against critical infrastructures (like the water or electricity supply, health sector, or communications and transport services) or against civil or state infrastructures is real.”

Worryingly, the Socialist Party’s security chief, Sébastien Pietrasanta, told POLITICO that the risk of hacking was high but campaign staff have “zero” training in how to stop it.

>See also: Inside the mind of a state-sponsored hacker

European governments and officials are wary of interference by Russian cyber attackers, but are waiting to see the approach adopted by the new US president before deciding whether to escalate sanctions and defences against Moscow.

Could this all be the beginning of a move by Putin to weaken the western Europe by instigating the break up of the European Union and in turn strengthening his own hand? Well no, if the EU is on the brink then Brexit was the catalyst and there have been no reports of hacking in that instance.

Some would argue that the established (in power) parties rhetoric about fake news, Russian hackers and populism is why European socialists and liberals are heading towards crushing electoral defeats all over the continent. Some would suggest that by focusing on this they have abandoned their core working class voting segment for the sake of a pseudo-moral ideological bubble, relying on ultra radical protest movements and the sole beneficiaries of the multi-cultural experiment to keep them in power.


Indeed, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front has dismissed claims of Russian interference in the U.S. elections as conspiracy theories.

Ilia Kolochenko, CEO of web security firm High-Tech Bridge commented on this latest hacking fear, stating that “cyber security awareness, additional security assessment and hardening of the critical national infrastructure is definitely a good move”.

>See also: Information warfare challenges the essence of democracy

“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. However, 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.”

“We should not exaggerate the risks, but instead perform an objective and holistic assessment of the risks to implement appropriate and reasonable mitigation.”

Insights like these are perhaps more useful than the attention grabbing headlines often used in the media.

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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