Last June, the co-producer of Office of Legends, Alex Berger went to Lille to the International Forum on Cybersecurity to meet French cyber specialists. The purpose of his trip to the FIC was to feed the scenario of his next series which will be devoted to cyber warfare and cyber defense. Welcome to Cyberia – title still unconfirmed – could no longer be produced by Canal+, but by Netflix. With 10 million subscribers in France, the American platform has more audience than Canal+ on the spot, its production budgets are higher – sometimes more than a million dollars per episode – and above all the streaming giant guarantees a large distribution abroad.
French cyber operators therefore dream of the same draft as that caused by the Office of Legends which resulted in a quadrupling of applications to the DGSE. They also want the image of the desocialized hacker living in hooded zombie mode to give way to a more contemporary reality with high-level engineers, wielding the most sophisticated tools for sensitive missions – with a beginning of feminization, it would be time. While waiting for the emergence of models embodied by stars of television series, there is work to popularize the cyber.
The discipline covers everything related to the computer protection activities of critical public or private installations, threats to internal security, the fight against organized crime, fraud of all kinds, and of course intelligence. The field is huge.
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Serious lack of cyber engineers
In his introductory speech to the international edition of the FIC at the beginning of the month in Montreal, General Marc Boget, commander of gendarmerie operations in cyberspace, recalled that there was a shortage of 5,000 to 6,000 cyber engineers in France. This figure should be compared to the 40,000 engineers produced by France on average each year. In his book From living memoryPhilippe Dewost, director of the Epita computer school, recalls that if we were thinking “of being proud of the fact that our engineers are ‘better’, nothing holds up any longer in the face of volume”: he quotes the 2.5 million engineers trained each year in India, 1.6 million to 4.7 million in China, with an expected tripling by 2030.
French cyber is weighed down by the dilapidation of its university system, incapable of creating courses of excellence in terms of technology. In the 2023 ranking of scientific and technical courses by the Times for Higher Education, France has 14 higher education establishments compared to 59 for the United Kingdom, 42 for Germany and 25 for Italy. And the Ecole Polytechnique, supposed to be the elite of engineering, is in 95th place. Finally, according to the IMF competitiveness index, France is in 19th place, behind Belgium, Austria and New Zealand.
When Canadian officials are questioned, for example, on the development of cyber, all underline the importance of a triptych: initial training in mathematics (France is 23rd out of 79 in the Pisa ranking); public/private partnerships and finally, cooperation with universities and the tech industry, whether mid-sized companies or giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, which concentrate the world’s greatest expertise in cyber. Canadians are also preparing for the future of the sector, which will rely heavily on quantum computing, an essential part of protecting future communications.
The Compassion of Canadians
For cultural and historical reasons, Quebecers would like to get closer to France. But the collaboration remains embryonic. In private, Quebec cyber actors say they are somewhat distressed by the inability of French universities to develop ad hoc courses. The reason is mainly ideological, between the defense and security connotation of this industry which acts as a repellent, coupled with a historical aversion to working with companies. According to business leaders trying to crack that shell, that rejection is more entrenched in faculty than in students who are beginning to understand the opportunities. Where in Canada private companies finance university chairs in cybersecurity or cyberdefence, the Gallic university proudly resists the Anglo-Saxon invader, pushed by the crusaders of digital sovereignty, whether lobbyists and civil servants.
As a result, the French cyber industry is getting organized. Companies discreetly cooperate in programs with engineering schools (even if the latter produce in dribs and drabs); groups such as Hexatrust which brings together 92 members are active; the gendarmerie is developing a center of excellence in Lille; the Avisa Partners group extends the footprint of its International Forum, while in a tower in La Défense, the Campus Cyber struggles, with its 180 shareholders, to organize the sector with actions rather rare in France such as a recruitment fair on the Defense slab…
As if that were not enough, the French cyber industry suffers from the other congenital disease of French Tech. With rare exceptions, the players are too small and fragmented, therefore not able to export, and if they find initial financing via the essential BPI, the fact remains that with comparable technologies, American or Israeli companies raise five to ten times more funds, and especially French women will have the greatest difficulty in finding growth financing, which makes them easy prey for foreign investors. The least we can say is that French cyber is facing headwinds.
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