France gets crack team of civilian cyberdefenders (who won't get to do much)

The French ministry of defense launched a "network of cyberdefence reservists" to help the country cope with online threats. But is the group more of a talking shop than actual defence force?
Written by Valéry Marchive, Contributor on

Calling all would-be online crime fighters: France has set up a civilian force to help tackle cybercrime.

Announced this week by the French ministry of defence, the "network of cyberdefence reservists" will be expected to help in "raising awareness, debating and suggesting, organising and establishing events that contribute to making cyberdefence a national priority."

Just raising awareness 

The French "network of cyberdefence reserve citizens" is currently made up of "about 40 citizens", according to the ministry. These "core founders... all have in common that they work in, or are interested in, the area of cyberdefence/cybersecurity and want to share their skills," the ministry said.

The network is divided into six workgroups: one will gather "selected journalists and individuals interested in the emergence of cyberdefence culture" while a second will be focused on raising awareness of cyberdefence issues among young people. Two others will look at enterprises - one will target SMEs, another large businesses - but both will have the same aim of raising awareness. A fifth group will be focused on "supporting strategic thinking and technical innovation at universities, laboratories and think tanks". 

The final workgroup comes with the most well-defined mission: named the "evolution of citizen involvement" workgroup, it will have to contribute to "thoughts on the possible evolution of a specific reserve [force] dedicated to cyberdefence".

Even though the newly-announced 'network' has official links with the army and France's National Agency for IT Security, it isn't designed to have any operational involvement with either: its aims are mainly around raising general awareness around IT security issues.

Luc-François Salvador, national coordinator of the new network, claims it's not "another think tank", but acknowledges at the same time that it's "an organisation at the confluence of the civilian and military worlds, for thinking and analysing".

The creation of the defence network follows suggestions made by French senator Jean-Marie Bockel in a parliamentary study released back in July 2012, Cyberdefence: a global challenge, a national priority. In the study, Bockel advocated stronger cooperation on cybersecurity between the public and the private sectors. 

Cooperation a long time coming

In line with Bockel's study, the network will be charged with improving collaboration between the public and private sectors.

It's a change that's been repeatedly called for: general Marc Wattin-Augouard , speaking at the International Forum on Cybercrime in January, repeated his his call for the public sector to have a "stronger dialogue with business". He first made a similar plea back in October 2009.

Such a move makes even more sense today given that IT systems are mostly operated and managed by private entities but at the same time are becoming more and more part of critical infrastructures, just like utilities.

Last autumn, a new academic chair for cyberdefence and cyberscurity was announced at the Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan officer training academy, involving the Thales group and IT services company Sogeti. Aimed at closing the communication gap between the public and private sectors as well as establishing a real "human resources strategy", part of the chair's remit is to help train army brass in cyberdefence.

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