PARIS • France is no less vulnerable than the United States to cyber attacks from foreign countries and the French military will boost its resources to defend against them, the French defence minister said yesterday.
In an interview with French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there is a real risk of cyber attacks on French civil infrastructure such as water, electricity, telecommunications and transport, as well as against French democracy and the media.
US intelligence agencies said in a report released last Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had directed a cyber campaign to help Republican Donald Trump's electoral chances by discrediting Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Asked whether France was immune from such attacks, Mr Le Drian said "No, of course not, we should not be naive".
France will hold its presidential election from April to May, and leading conservative challenger Francois Fillon has said he wants to improve relations with Russia. He has also been praised by Mr Putin. Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen also favours closer relations with Russia.
French-Russian relations have been strained by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea in 2014 and over Russia's role in the war in Syria.
Outgoing French President Francois Hollande has cancelled the sale of warships to Russia and played a key role in imposing sanctions on Russia over Crimea.
The number of cyber attacks against the French Defence Ministry has doubled every year, according to Mr Le Drian. Last year, about 24,000 external attacks were blocked, including attempts at disrupting France's drone systems.
The minister said France should not only be able to defend itself against cyber attacks, but should also be able to strike back when necessary. The French army's number of "digital soldiers" would be doubled to 2,600 by 2019, with support of an additional 600 cyber experts.
In case of a cyber attack, the country could respond in kind as well as with conventional weapons, Mr Le Drian added.