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Mystery hackers take down the Vatican’s website

Pope Francis delivers his message for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on Jan. 16, 2015. (Malacañang Photo Bureau/Released)
December 01, 2022

The Vatican’s official website was hacked and taken offline on Wednesday, triggering theories of possible culprits as an official investigation quietly unfolds.

At first the Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said the website was having technical difficulties and undergoing maintenance, the Daily Beast reported. But late on Wednesday he admitted the problem was less mundane than that, saying, “Technical investigations are ongoing due to abnormal attempts to access the site.”

Bruni may have been referring to a “distributed denial-of-service” attack, where hackers overwhelm web servers with traffic, causing them to crash.

On Thursday morning, the website’s homepage loaded, but many secondary pages returned “404 Not Found.” It isn’t clear if that was an issue prior to the hack.

The Vatican hasn’t released any more information on the incident, and the Daily Beast reports that it is not expected to. But Pope Francis and the Catholic administration have in recent days poked against both Russia and China, the latter of which has hacked the Vatican before.

Russian officials hit back at Francis this week after he gave an interview speculating on which ethnic groups in Russia’s military were the “cruelest.” Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev called the statement “an enormous mistake” and “totally unacceptable in today’s world,” according to the Daily Beast.

And last week, the Holy See — the Vatican-based worldwide Catholic administration — refused to acknowledge a new bishop appointed in China. The bishop had apparently been installed without the Holy See’s approval, violating a deal it had struck with China outlining the Catholic Church’s status there.

Just before that deal was renegotiated in 2020, researchers caught Chinese hackers breaching the Vatican and an affiliated group key to the talks, the New York Times reported.

Another recent attack on the Vatican came in 2015, when Turkish hackers opposed Francis referring to Turkey’s Armenian genocide. And in 2012, the activist hacker group Anonymous took the website down in a distributed denial-of-service attack, citing multiple grievances against the Church.