Cyberspace faces an approaching risk of "permanent war" between states and criminal or extremist organisations because of increasingly destructive hacking attacks, the head of the French government's cybersecurity agency warned Thursday.
In a wide-ranging interview in his office with The Associated Press, Guillaume Poupard lamented a lack of commonly agreed rules to govern cyberspace and said: "We must work collectively, not just with two or three Western countries, but on a global scale."
"With what we see today — attacks that are criminal, from states, often for espionage or fraud but also more and more for sabotage or destruction — we are getting closer, clearly, to a state of war, a state of war that could be more complicated, probably, than those we've known until now," he said.
His comments echoed testimony from the head of the US National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 9. Rogers spoke of "cyber effects" being used by states "to maintain the initiative just short of war" and said "'Cyber war'" is not some future concept or cinematic spectacle, it is real and here to stay."
Poupard said "the most nightmare scenario, the point of view that Rogers expressed and which I share" would be "a sort of permanent war — between states, between states and other organisations, which can be criminal and terrorist organisations — where everyone will attack each other, without really knowing who did what. A sort of generalised chaos that could affect all of cyberspace."
Poupard is director general of the government cyber-defense agency known in France by its acronym, ANSSI. Its agents were immediately called to deal with the aftermath of a hack and massive document leak that hit the election campaign of President Emmanuel Macron just two days before his May 7 victory.
Contrary to Rogers, who said the US warned France of "Russian activity" before Macron's win, Poupard didn't point the finger at Russia. He told the AP that ANSSI's investigation found no trace behind the Macron hack of the notorious hacking group APT28 — identified by the US government as a Russian intelligence outfit and blamed for hacks of the US election campaign, anti-doping agencies and other targets. The group also is known by other names, including "Fancy Bear."
Poupard described the Macron campaign hack as "not very technological" and said "the attack was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone."
Without ruling out the possibility that a state might have been involved, he said the attack's simplicity "means that we can imagine that it was a person who did this alone. They could be in any country."
"It really could be anyone. It could even be an isolated individual," he said.