In the Rennes area, a hive of buzzing engineers is transforming innovation in the field of defence.
In today’s society even the least experienced user of information technology knows the risks that hacking and other virtual intrusions represent. Since the May 2018 application of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) within the European Union, citizens have become aware of the importance of protecting personal data.
For everyday users the task is relatively straightforward, but how does one go about protecting data from potential attacks on a national and international scale? How can one protect enormous information systems that house highly critical data? And how does one need to react should an intrusion occur?
These are the questions that the French Armed Forces Ministry was asking, with regard to data protection and exchange in military air traffic control. In this field the stakes have evolved considerably. In the face of multiple new threats the traditional approach to cybersecurity – with cyber-attacks taking up to several days to be detected – is no longer relevant.
Combatting this threat requires extremely swift response times, which is why the DGA (Direction générale de l’armement, the French defence procurement agency) and Thales decided to implement an innovative, Agile-based approach, with a view to rapidly integrating the solutions that have been developed to equip the armed forces.
La Ruche (“The Hive”) was born – in June 2017 – out of this need for a different way of working. Up until then, resources had all been committed to traditional cybersecurity. As well as working on high-level cyberdefence projects, La Ruche proposes an approach named CybAIR, dedicated to cyberscurity in the aviation field. Erwan Boulain, Head of Partnerships for Innovation at La Ruche, explains: “Traditional cybersecurity – in other words, the protection of the information system – can be likened to protecting a home. The firewalls and sensors are like the doors and windows we install to prevent intrusion. With CybAIR, however, we are looking at behaviours – we work with the customer on defining what ‘normal’ behaviour is, and then we look for discrepancies. To come back to the example of the home: we detect that a bedroom window is open at 3pm on a weekday – is this normal (the homeowner airs the room in the afternoon) or explicable (it’s a warm day), or is the behaviour unusual (a potential intrusion)? CybAIR, coupled with artificial intelligence, carries out detailed analysis of the data flows, and this analysis then leads to the proposal of different responses, on which a human operator makes the final decision.”
By providing permanent observation of the exchanges taking place in the information systems, La Ruche is also able to incorporate a vital real-time dimension, which increases responsiveness in the event of an incident.
Being able to master immediacy is not the only key to the success of this organisation. All of the players – the engineers at Thales and at the DGA, the local startups specialised in data management, and the operational staff – are involved in each stage of the project. As one of the heads of Cybersecurity at the DGA’s Information Control expertise and test centre points out: “One of the benefits of working with an organisation such as La Ruche is the ability to create innovate methods of cooperation. These allow us to work in a short loop between industry, the DGA and staff in the field, and to also encompass SMEs and research laboratories.”
In this respect, the decision to base La Ruche in the Rennes area was no accident. It is a reflection of a reality on the ground , where the past few years have seen the emergence of a cybersecurity ecosystem, with the creation of a centre of excellence in the field, the presence of universities and research facilities working in the cybersecurity realm, and other Thales teams specialised in critical information systems. The geographical proximity allows people to meet, and that in turn fosters better understanding. According to Erwan Boulain, “a customer relationship is closely linked to the relationship that we have with the person – it is first and foremost a human relationship. In order for the concept to work, people need to understand each other.”
On its launch in June 2017 La Ruche had just seven employees; today it has around 60. The aim is to reach around 100, but no more, so as to continue to be agile and create a relationship of trust with the customer. In order to enable this swarm of busy CybAIR bees to turn its honey into business opportunities, new premises are being opened in Rennes in the coming days.
“This marks a turning-point in the history of La Ruche,” says Erwan, “and will allow us to develop new ideas.”
In developing its CybAIR activities and working on high-level cyberdefence projects, La Ruche will continue to play an active role not only in the growth of the Breton ecosystem, but also in the protection of the nation.