The U.S. embassy in Paris has strenuously denied claims by the French newsmagazine l’Express that the U.S. launched a cyber attack on the French presidency, succeeding in installing a ‘Flame’ Trojan that allowed U.S. agents to hack into top-secret e-mails and documents. Flame is a technically complex malware that introduces secret monitoring capacity into high security computers, including for purposes of cyber warfare.
The U.S. became a prime suspect because the malware used to hack into the Elysee Palace computers was similar to that allegedly used by the U.S. to destroy computers linked to Iran’s nuclear programme. According to the newsmagazine, the cyber attack took place earlier this year when President Nicolas Sarkozy was in office.
“We categorically refute the allegations made by unidentified sources, which appeared in an article in l’Express, according to which the United States government participated in a cyber-attack against the French government,” ssaid the embassy statement, written in French. Paris chose to ignore the matter and refrained from detailed comment. The U.S. embassy statement said the magazine’s assumptions were not based on fact and that its anonymous sources had shared unverified suspicions and concerns. The magazine had reported that French informatics experts zeroed in on Flame, an almost untraceable malware, because of the sophistication of the attack.
Though the U.S. and France regularly share intelligence, especially in their fight against terrorism, it is widely known that even close allies spy on each other. An attack such as the one described by l’Express could be considered a hostile act.
l’Express said the attack was prompted by U.S. fears of what would transpire if Mr. Sarkozy, widely considered to be a staunch U.S. ally, was to lose the May 2012 presidential election. Many of the attacks targeted the computer of his chief of staff, Xavier Musca. A spokesperson for France’s National Agency for the Security of Information Systems, ANSSI, which was created under Mr. Sarkozy to defend France against cyber attacks, declined to comment.
Playing down the importance of the alleged hacking, French government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said she had no concrete information about it but that the U.S.-French relations were “excellent”.