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Hackers target Vatican internet site

Brussels, London, October 19th, 2015 (CatholicHerald/SIGNIS). Hackers are everywhere, and hack every kind of websites. It’s no surprise that the Vatican website has been subject to such attacks. However, it appears that the Vatican’s defences against hackers are strong. That’s what Edward Lucas, author of Cyberphobia, a book on threats to computer security, reports. Read here about his view. (to read the whole article, go here)

Hostile governments, criminals and pranksters are relentlessly attacking the Vatican’s computer systems. It may not be long before they breach its defences.
The Vatican is under attack from an invisible, ubiquitous enemy. It works through deceit, distraction and derision. Its greatest strength is our own weakness.
The most recent attack on the Vatican was in April, when Pope Francis used the word “genocide” to characterise the Ottoman Turkish slaughter of Armenians in 1915. This prompted Turkish nationalists – who vehemently contest this use of language – to launch a “distributed denial of service” or DDoS attack, which is the simplest and crudest form of cyber-attack. The goal is to flood the website, so nobody else can get in.

In 2012, the Vatican website was attacked by “Anonymous”, knocking it off the internet and posting this message: “Today, Anonymous has decided to put your site under siege in response to your doctrine, liturgy and the absurd and anachronistic rules that your profit-making organisation spreads around the world…” The Church’s view on issues such as euthanasia, abortion, gay marriage, priestly celibacy make us think that other attacks will come.

The Vatican will also be on alert for attacks from hostile governments. Turkey is the most recent country to cross swords with the Church, but the row with China over recognition of Catholic bishops is far deeper and more serious.

A DDoS attack is crude by the standards of internet mischief and mayhem. It does not steal data, or corrupt it, or encrypt it, so it cannot be used for fraud, theft of intellectual property or to sabotage machinery. It may seem intimidating, but in truth it is not too complicated to deal with. The trick is to notice quickly that you are under attack, and to take precautions: filtering out bogus traffic and bringing in back-up computers to help take the strain. For an organisation the size of the Vatican, that should not be too hard.

The Vatican does not comment on its security, real world or online. But all the signs suggest that its defences against more sophisticated attacks are excellent. A report on the Anonymous attack by the computer security company Imperva (which did not mention the Vatican by name) showed how the attackers had tried repeatedly to breach the website. The attack was originally timed to coincide with Benedict XVI’s visit to Madrid in August 2011 for World Youth Day. Hackers tried to disrupt the event’s promotional website, and posted numerous videos on YouTube and other channels denouncing the Church’s stance on issues such as child sex abuse.

But even the group’s most skilled hackers could not find any weaknesses in the website, which would have allowed them to deface it, for example. This is a credit to the Vatican’s professionalism: many big companies have proved lamentably vulnerable.

The central problem in computer security – whether for the well-defended Vatican or the humble ordinary user – is that the internet was designed for academics wanting to share research material, with underlying assumptions of good faith and trust. Now that it has become the central nervous system of modern life, these design flaws make it highly vulnerable.

The Vatican’s defences (as far as outsiders can tell) have so far proved to be largely solid. But the guardians of its computers and networks will have to run in order to stand still.

The internet has given the Church unparalleled means to get its message across. But it has also given its foes unprecedented ways to attack it.

SIGNIS

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