Hackers alleged to be backed by China have renewed efforts to penetrate a Vatican e-mail server even after the attacks became public, in a push to spy on sensitive negotiations between the two states, a new cybersecurity report said on Tuesday.
The incursions by the group RedDelta, which began in May, had ceased after they were disclosed in a July 28 report by US-based security specialist Recorded Future.
The attacks have recommenced, targeting servers of the Vatican and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the monitoring group said in the new report.
RedDelta hackers operate in line with Chinese strategic priorities and have used decoy documents focusing on issues such as Catholicism in China “in a manner consistent with cyberespionage operations,” the report said.
The Vatican is close to renewing a historic agreement with China on the appointment of bishops in the country, first signed in September 2018.
Relations between the Vatican and China were broken off in 1951 and a settlement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has proved elusive, especially as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) presides over the most widespread crackdown on religious freedom since it was written into the country’s constitution in 1982.
Chinese authorities have jailed Catholic priests, demolished places of worship and detained hundreds of thousands of Muslim ethnic Uighurs in so-called reeducation camps.
Any move by the Vatican toward rapprochement with Beijing would be highly sensitive, especially since one of China’s goals is for the papal state to cut ties with Taiwan.
The Vatican and China intend to renew the agreement on bishops, which runs out next month, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told reporters at an event in the Vatican on Monday.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any involvement in the cyberattacks following the publication of the July report, calling it “groundless speculation.”
RedDelta took basic operational security measures after its attempts became public, but restarted its attacks within two weeks, the new report said.
The targeting of the Vatican network died down early this month, a week before Beijing said that the accord on bishops had been smoothly implemented over the past two years.
It is unclear whether the hacking group successfully regained access to the Vatican network after late July, the new report said.
RedDelta’s attempts to again infiltrate the Vatican network, as well as the emergence of decoy documents, highlight the CCP’s focus on “gaining increased oversight of the Catholic community within China,” it said.
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