Chinese state-sponsored hackers have launched a series of successful attacks on the Vatican, invading the church’s computer systems and email servers, according to a new report.
As revealed by Recorded Future, a security firm that specializes in state-backed cybercrime, the attacks began in May and also targeted the Catholic diocese of Hong Kong, the church’s main representative in the region.
In one instance, the Chinese hackers are said to have mimicked a letter from the office of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, which was used to infect recipients with malware as part of a phishing scam.
The incidents precede expected talks between the Vatican and Beijing, at which the two parties are set to renew a landmark 2018 pact that served to solidify diplomatic relations.
According to the Recorded Future report, the attacks exhibited traits and made use of tools consistent with previous state-backed cyberattacks originating in China, but Beijing has categorically denied its involvement in the hacks.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has dismissed the allegations as conjecture and claims that China is a “staunch defender” of cybersecurity. Accusations of this kind, asserted department spokesperson Wang Wenbin, must be backed up with hard evidence.
It remains unclear whether talks over renewing the terms of the 2018 deal, which saw the Vatican recognize the legitimacy of seven Chinese bishops appointed by Beijing, will be affected by the hacking reports.
Despite an historic summit attended by the pair in Germany earlier this year, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic had placed question marks over whether the discussions would take place, irrespective of the ostensible hack. One individual familiar with the situation suggested the original agreement might be extended automatically in light of the situation.