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27th Nov 2021

Macron Leaks could be 'isolated individual', France says

  • False flag operations could harm international relations, Poupard said (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

France has found no evidence that Russia was behind Macron Leaks, but Russian leader Vladimir Putin has warned that “patriotic” hackers could strike the German election.

Guillaume Poupard, the head of the French cyber security agency, Anssi, told the AP news agency on Thursday (1 June) that the Macron hack resembled the actions of “an isolated individual”.

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  • Macron (r) criticised Russian propaganda when he met Putin (l) on Monday (Photo: elysee.fr)

"The attack was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone”, he said. “It really could be anyone. It could even be an isolated individual”.

The Macron Leaks saw a hacker steal and publish internal emails from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron 48 hours before the French vote last month, which Macron went on to win.

Some security experts blamed it on a hacker group called APT28, which is said by the US to be a front for Russian intelligence.

But Poupard said on Thursday: “To say Macron Leaks was APT28, I'm absolutely incapable today of doing that … I have absolutely no element to say whether it’s true or false”.

Macron’s campaign was also targeted by hackers earlier in March in a more sophisticated attack blamed on APT28.

The same group was said to have attacked French broadcaster TV5 Monde in 2015, German political parties and foundations, and the Democratic Party in the US elections.

Speaking of the TV5 Monde attack, Poupard told AP that "very specific tools were used to destroy the equipment" in an operation that "resembles a lot what we call collectively APT28”.

'Patriotic' threat

US and German intelligence chiefs have been more bold in their accusations.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the director of Germany’s BfV intelligence service, said in May that Kremlin-linked hackers had stolen information on German MPs in the run-up to the German election in September.

“We recognise this as a campaign being directed from Russia”, he said.

But Russia has denied the allegations.

Its president, Vladimir Putin, told media in Moscow on Thursday: “We do not engage in this activity at the government level and are not going to engage in it”.

He warned at the same time that independent hackers might target the German or other EU elections for “patriotic” reasons if they felt leaders were “speaking ill of Russia”.

“Hackers are free people like artists. If artists get up in the morning feeling good, all they do all day is paint”, Putin said.

“The same goes for hackers. They got up today and read that something is going on internationally. If they are feeling patriotic they will start contributing, as they believe, to the justified fight against those speaking ill of Russia”.

With Macron having won despite the leaks, Putin said: “I am deeply convinced that no hackers can have a real impact on an election campaign in another country”.

Macron, at a meeting with Putin in Paris on Monday, said Russian state media tried to influence the vote with fake news, but Putin said on Thursday: “Nothing, no information can be imprinted in voters’ minds, in the minds of a nation, and influence the final outcome and the final result”.

False flags

Poupard and Putin said false flag attacks were easier in cyberspace than in real life.

Poupard said France had in the past been hacked by groups “attributed to China … I don't know if it was the state, criminals”. But he added that: “What I’m certain of is that among these attacks, some strangely resembled Chinese attacks but in fact didn't come from China”.

Putin said: “I can image a scenario when somebody develops a chain of attacks in a manner that would show Russia as the source of these attacks. Modern technology allows that. It’s very easy”.

Poupard said if states wrongly accused each other of cyber strikes it could lead to “international chaos”.

"We'll get what we all fear, which is to say a sort of permanent conflict where everyone is attacking everyone else”, he said.

The “nightmare scenario” would be "a sort of permanent war, between states and other organisations, which can be criminal and terrorist organisations, where everyone will attack each other, without really knowing who did what”, he said.

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