US cyber security firm says Beijing-linked hackers target Vatican ahead of talks


BEIJING (Reuters) – Hackers linked to the Chinese government have infiltrated Vatican computer networks, including the Hong Kong-based representative of the Roman Catholic Church, an American firm that tracks state-backed cyber attacks on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: A surveillance camera has been spotted near a religious painting during a Mass at Xishiku Cathedral, a government-sanctioned Catholic Church, on December 24, 2019, on Christmas Eve in Beijing, China. REUTERS / FLORENCE LO

It said the attacks began in May. The Vatican and Beijing were expected to join negotiations this year over the renewal of a historic 2018 deal that would stabilize relations between China and the Church.

US cybercity firm Recorded Future reported that the attacks targeted Hong Kong’s Vatican and Catholic diocese, including the head of the Hong Kong Study Mission, who is seen as the de facto representative of China’s Pope Francis.

The report stated that the target included communications between Hong Kong Suba and the Vatican and used similar tools and methods previously identified with Chinese state-backed hacking groups.

Speaking at a daily news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that China is a “staunch defender” of cyber security.

Wang said that during the investigation of cyber incidents, substantial evidence rather than conjecture is needed.

Beijing routinely denies engaging in any state-backed hacking efforts, and says it is a victim of such threats.

The Vatican spokesman had no immediate comment. The Hong Kong Study Mission did not respond to a request for comment.

The report hacking marks the highest level official encounter between the two sides in Germany earlier this year between Beijing and the Vatican foreign minister.

Relations between the two have improved and he is expected to renew a provisional two-year deal on the operation of the Catholic Church in China this September.

A delegation from China was due to travel to the Vatican as part of the ongoing negotiations, but there was no indication of whether or when they would travel due to an outbreak of coronovirus, a senior Vatican source has said.

The source, who spoke to Reuters before the hacking report, said it was still unclear whether the deal would be extended automatically due to the epidemic and for how long.

Reports by Kate Cadell and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Greg Torode in Hong Kong and Philip Pullela in Rome; Editing by Tony Munro, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Gareth Jones

Our standard:Thomson Reuters Trust Theory.

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