France Announces Cyber ​​Defense Plan Following Malware Attacks

PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled a plan on Thursday to bolster the IT equipment of public agencies and private companies against online criminals following ransomware attacks against two hospitals this month and a surge in similar cyber attacks across France.

During ransomware attacks, hackers infect computers or computer systems with viruses that encode and lock data until the attacked users pay a ransom.

The attacks on the hospitals in Dax and Villefranche-sur-Saone forced the transfer of some patients to other facilities, at a time when the French health system is under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

Macron analyzed the attacks with authorities and workers from both hospitals and said that the incident « shows how the threat is very serious, sometimes vital. »

« We are learning about these new attacks, some coming from other states, as part of new conflicts between nations, and others coming from mafias, » added the French president during a teleconference. Some attacks have « criminal » or « lucrative » motives, while others are used to « destabilize » countries, he added.

Macron recalled a massive attack on US federal agencies last year and the theft of information on vaccines suffered by the European Medical Agency in November.

The president stressed the need for international cooperation between police and criminal justice agencies after Ukrainian authorities confirmed that earlier this month the country dismantled a ransomware program known as Egregor, following joint action by the United States, France and Ukraine.

Macron’s office said the government will allocate some 500 million euros ($ 603 million) to bolster cyber defense systems in the public and private sectors.

France’s National Cybersecurity Agency (ANSSI) reported that ransomware attacks increased 255% in 2020 compared to 2019. All sectors and geographic areas of the country were included, but the increase is of particular concern to the health and medical sector. education system, as well as local authorities and digital service providers, ANSSI said.