Huddled around their computers, two dozen French 20-somethings have been typing away feverishly for seven hours. Their objective is clear. Eliminate a virus crippling the systems of a government environmental agency.
“Mission accomplished! They have done what they were asked to do. Analyze, identify and then develop a code that wipes it out,” says Patrice, a French military officer testing potential recruits at a cyber defense center in western France.
The exercise was one of dozens held across the country between March 20 and 31, involving 240 people from 12 elite technology colleges, part of a plan to create an army of talented cyber spies to counter digital destabilization efforts….
“The threats will grow. The frequency and sophistication of attacks is increasing without respite,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in December after unveiling the army’s new cyber operational command.
“The next challenge in cyber defense will not just be detecting the attacks, but to continue our military operations amid a cyber attack, while using cyberspace to launch our own counter operations.”
The “fourth army,” as it has now been labeled, will see an initial billion euros invested up to 2019. The objective is to have 3,200 digital soldiers in place by then, from just 100 six years ago.
Another 4,400 reservists will be waiting in the wings if required.
At Cesson-Savigne, a center for French cyber defense excellence, the twenty budding digital soldiers know this could be the opportunity to defend their country….
More and more students are also seeking full-time posts, with starting salaries of 3,000 euros ($3,195) a month.
“The profile we’re after is someone young who enjoys rummaging around a little and is extremely curious in the digital world,” said Stephane, a commander who heads up a cyber unit that trains about 1,000 people each year.