France to boost cyberdefense after hospital malware attacks

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FILE - In this Jan.22, 2019 file photo, cables are plugged into a device by Cyber Test Systems at the Cybersecurity Conference in Lille, northern France. French President Emmanuel Macron is unveiling on Thursday a plan to better arm public facilities and private companies against cybercriminals as ransomware attacks struck two hospitals earlier this month, amid an upsurge of similar attacks in the country. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday unveiled a plan to better arm public facilities and private companies against cybercriminals following ransomware attacks at two hospitals this month and an upsurge of similar cyber assaults in France.

The attacks at the hospitals in Dax and Villefranche-sur-Saone prompted the transfer of some patients to other facilities as the French health care system is under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

Macron discussed the attacks with officials and workers from both hospitals, saying the incident “shows how the threat is very serious, sometimes vital."

“We are learning about these new attacks, some coming from states as part of new conflicts between nations, others coming from mafias,” the French leader said during a videoconference. Some attacks have “criminal” or “lucrative” motives, others are used to “destabilize” countries, he added.

Macron referred to a massive hack of U.S. federal agencies last year and to the stealing of vaccine documents from the European Medicine Agency in November.

He stressed the need for international cooperation among police and criminal justice agencies after Ukrainian authorities said they had crippled a ransomware gang known as Egregor earlier this month following a joint action by the United States, France and Ukraine.

Macron’s office said the government will earmark about 500 million euros ($603 million) to help boost cyberdefense systems in the public and private sector.

The National Cybersecurity Agency of France (ANSSI) reported that ransomware attacks surged 255% in 2020 compared to the previous year. All sectors and geographical areas of the country were included, but the increase particularly concerns the health care sector, the education system, local authorities and digital service providers, ANSSI said.