The Vatican has confirmed that a successful attempt was made by the hacking group "Anonymous" to take down several of its websites yesterday, but all its pages are now back online.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi stated that the Vatican website “has been attacked” but would not comment further. Italy's postal and communications police was informed around lunchtime on March 7 that several of the Holy See's websites were targeted, disabling them for a few hours in the afternoon.
The cyber siege was reported to have breached a number of firewalls, each named after Biblical prophets or the archangels Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel. All its web pages are now back to normal.
Italian members of Anonymous issued a statement yesterday on a blog saying the attack was an act of revenge for an array of outrages, including the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the historic practice of selling indulgences for sins.
The cyber onslaught came just a day after six of the group's alleged leaders were charged by the FBI with waging a “deliberate campaign of online destruction, intimidation, and criminality.”
Any hacker appears to be able to adopt the Anonymous label. The group describes itself as “a decentralized network of individuals focused on promoting access to information, free speech, and transparency.”
Responding to yesterday's attack, one Vatican official close to the Internet section admitted to Newsmax “this was a big one” and that the Holy See is increasingly concerned about cyber attacks as they are “becoming more widespread.” But he noted that this particular strike didn't cause major disruption as the sites were back online within a few hours.
“I'm more worried about big companies and other organizations that hold credit card information or other confidential details — it's a bigger headache for them,” the official said.
Speaking last May to a group of Catholic bloggers, Msgr. Lucio Ruiz of the Vatican's Internet section revealed that the Holy See “gets a lot of attacks from hackers” and that on one occasion 2 million computers were set to attack the Vatican's website at the same time.
“We had to work all night to resolve the situation,” he said, adding that both Italy's Internet police and Interpol were also involved. “We have to cooperate with a lot of law enforcement agencies every day,” he said.
A large group of hackers searched for vulnerabilities on a Catholic Church website in an unsuccessful bid to bring it down last August. The attack was meant to coincide with the Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebration taking place at that time in Madrid.
In comments to Catholic News Service last week, an American nun in charge of the event's website said they were aware of the attack. Sister Kristen Gardner said the event organizers received several threats from Anonymous via YouTube videos.
“We prepared all the necessary infrastructure to secure the website, removing all possible security holes,” Gardner said. “We were able to block the IPs (Internet protocols) from which the attack was coming. The day with the most attacks was Thursday, August 18” (the day Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Madrid).
The Vatican's main website is now in its 16th year and is “very expensive to maintain,”according to Msgr. Lucio, and is currently undergoing a renovation of its 5,000 or so pages.
Vatican officials — and the Pope himself — have consistently exhorted Catholics to make best use of the Internet and other modern communication technologies in spreading the Gospel.
Over the past five years, the Vatican has embraced social media and set up its own YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
Last year the Vatican set up a new aggregator site (www.news.va), bringing together all the news coming from the Holy See. And earlier this year, it co-launched an online database designed to allow clergy around the world to share information on eradicating the problem of clerical sex abuse.
Edward Pentin also writes for the National Catholic Register, which is owned by EWTN. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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