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The great cybersecurity challenge (by William Lecat, General Secretariat for Investment)

Cyber-attacks are becoming a recurrent phenomenon and develop at a speed hard to match as the natural result of the growing importance of digital technologies in our lives. Many insist on tomorrow’s crisis being digital yet the realisation that for numerous actors (Ukraine, Estonia, TV5 Monde among others) yesterday’s crisis was already digital must raise our awareness about the need for long-term resilient defence systems against cyber-attacks. To deal with this issue — which is at the heart of our strategic autonomy — one must contend with innovating against tomorrow’s threats and with competing with the various international actors in that sector.

Such was the set-up for the French ‘Grand Défi cyber-sécurité’ (Cybersecurity Challenge) organised by the government. The aim is to support the development of innovative technologies and the rise of new practices leading to a wider strategy. The corresponding programme involves 2 stages. The first — lasting about 15 months — focuses on the research and development of disruptive technologies and is expanded on — for the most promising projects — by a second 12-month boost stage allowing for the development of concrete applications. The call for projects, now open for the first stage, applies mostly to start-ups, SMEs and research facilities and offers financial grants covering up to 50% of the total cost. However, for concrete field implementation from the very start, we will look for one sponsorship by project in the form of a key account bringing its own case of practical use.

Efforts are focused on the three vertical axes explained in the road map in order to maximise the impact of the ‘Grand Défi’: dynamic networks, connected objects and the protection of small structures against cybercrime. Therefore, submitted applications must revolve around one of those three axes. They will then be studied under three angles: innovating characteristics and technological relevance, growth ambitions and intended impact, as well as integration in the ecosystem and synergies. Open dialogue upstream from the submission of the application shall allow for the agile establishment of the most relevant scope so as to maximise the return on investment for all actors based on the time spent.

In line with this approach, the FIC 2021 ‘AI Challenge’ constitutes a specially interesting process for the stimulation of the ecosystem and the rise of breakthrough innovation. The investment and support of the ‘Grand Défi’ for this competition are all the more natural and reflect the great results expected from such event.