The FR-Alert on a mobile phone. GETTY IMAGES

Mobile phones pinged throughout Paris on Monday and alerted residents of a critically important message from France’s Interior minister under the alarming title “extremely serious alert." However, it was just a reminder regarding the implementation of a strict security perimeter for Paris 2024.

The notification was intended to underline the need to download a free QR code pass, which will be required to travel during the competitions, set to start on July 26, with the opening ceremony in the river Seine being considered a high-risk security target.

The sudden text that flashed up at exactly 8 p.m. noted that access to such areas will be restricted from July 18, a measure that will affect residents, employees, shopkeepers and hotel and restaurant guests in the vicinity. Originally meant as a routine alert, it blared a loud ringing tone, sparking surprise and quite a bit of chaos on social media, and even interrupted a parliament speech by the Interior minister.

The "Extremely serious alert" sounded off in the French capital even on phones in silent mode and displayed its warning in capital letters. "IMPORTANT: message from the interior ministry concerning the security perimeter for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games," it read, urging  "residents, employees, shopkeepers, hotel and restaurant guests" to connect to a platform and obtain said QR code that would allow them to access the secured area from the mentioned date to July 26, when the Games are due to start.

The Summer Olympics are facing, among many other threats, an unprecedented cybersecurity challenge and Paris 2024 organisers are working closely with the French National Agency for Information Security (ANSSI) and cyber security companies Cisco and Eviden (Atos Group) to minimise the impact of cyber attacks. Just this past weekend, Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra's X profile was hacked.

Monday’s alert was sent out during peak evening hours "to reach as many people as possible", officials said, and even reached the parliamentary session between Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and members of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party. "This is not a test. An exceptional event requires exceptional action," said Darmanin, who is in charge of the Olympics security operation. When his phone and others in parliament all started pinging at once, the minister tried to switch off his device and resume his speech amid laughter from the opposition, forcing the speaker of parliament, Yael Braun-Pivet, to intervene. "There is an alert and nobody can hear you!" she shouted.

Shortly after, the Paris police department sent out its own message on social media, intended to explain the alert’s nature and underlining the crucial importance of planning and preparation to ensure a safe Olympic Games, as well as the importance of the Paris residents cooperation with authorities, especially regarding its inauguration. “If you were in Paris within the security perimeter that will be set up for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, you should have received an alert on your telephone informing you of the opening of the platform to obtain the QR Code to access it from 18 to 26 July,” the Préfecture de police posted on X.

Darmanin warned back in April that in order to secure the Seine’s perimeter, authorities would have to deal with extremely complex issues such as Paris’ famed catacombs and tunnel networks or electrical and telephone networks. "The city’s subsoil is an opportunity for those who want to commit mischief. The people of Paris are no more at risk than those of other major cities that have hosted the Olympic Games," the Police department told AFP, stressing the need for a well-thought out security plan which would include temporary closures.