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Vatican shuts down its website amid hacking attempts


The Vatican was forced to take down its main vatican.va website on Wednesday and soon admitted it had detected apparent attempts to hack it.

“Technical investigations are ongoing due to abnormal attempts to access the site,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told Reuters on November 30, without elaboration.

The website was down Wednesday and Thursday but came back up by Friday morning. Yet, attempts by Cybernews to access the Latin version of vatican.va were met with “404” error messages.

It’s not clear who the alleged hackers are, although there is precedent for hacking groups targeting the Vatican because of statements by Pope Francis. A Turkish hacker broke into the Holy See’s website after the pope called the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks a “genocide.”

The educated guess this time would be that Russians did it – the attack came a day after Russian politicians criticized Pope Francis for his comments about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a recent interview with a Jesuit magazine.

The pope controversially spoke of two Russian ethnic minorities – Chechens and Buryati – as exceptionally cruel. “Generally, the cruelest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on,” Pope Francis said.

After the alleged cyberattack, Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican, blamed Russia for the latest incident on Twitter.

Russia’s cybercriminals have a history of targeting Catholic entities. In 2018, reports emerged that Russian hackers had infiltrated the email inboxes of Orthodox, Catholic, and other religious leaders connected to Ukraine.

To be fair, the Vatican’s main website is quite old-fashioned, and this also attracted other hackers in the past.

For example, in 2012, the Italian branch of the activist hacking group Anonymous took it down using a simple “denial of service” hacking method. That is, the site was artificially flooded with traffic in an attempt to overload it.

And in 2020, Insikt Group, the threat intelligence research arm of Recorded Future, a US cybersecurity company, said in a report that Chinese state-sponsored hackers targeted Vatican computer networks in what was then an attempt to give China an advantage in negotiations over the provisional deal with the Holy See.

Russia has a history of targeting Catholic entities with its hacks. In 2018, reports emerged that Russian hackers had infiltrated the email inboxes of Orthodox, Catholic, and other religious leaders connected to Ukraine.


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