Although the motives and perpetrator of the hacker/hackers in this case are not known, there is precedent for hackers targeting the Vatican due to public statements by Pope Francis. In 2015, for example, a Turkish hacker claimed credit for hacking Vatican’s website after Pope Francis described the 1915 massacre of Armenians in Turkey as a “genocide” in a homily.
The attack in the case at hand comes just days after Russian leaders criticised Pope Francis’ comments about Russia’s war against Ukraine during a recent interview. The pope called Ukraine a “martyred nation” and named two Russian ethnic minorities, Chechens (and Buryati) as “generally most cruel” in the conflict.
Other hackers have also been attracted to the Vatican’s outdated main website. The Italian branch of Anonymous, an activist hacking group, took down the Vatican website in 2012 using a simple “denial-of-service” hacking technique. This meant that the website was artificially overloaded with traffic to overload it.
In an effort to give China an advantage during negotiations to renew a provisional agreement with the Holy See, Chinese state sponsored hackers targeted computer networks of the Vatican and other Catholic targets more recently in 2020.
Experts accuse Russia of hacking, disinformation and cyberwarfare in its current conflict with Ukraine. Russia also has a history targeting Catholic entities through its hacks. According to reports, Russian hackers infiltrated email accounts of Orthodox, Catholic and other religious leaders linked to Ukraine in 2018,
Courtney Mares contributed this story.