ROME — Chinese state-sponsored cyber-hackers have continued targeting Vatican computer networks as the Holy See enters discussions with Beijing over the renewal of their 2018 deal on the naming of Catholic bishops in China.
Breitbart News reported in July that the U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Recorded Future had discovered that hackers tied to the Chinese government had infiltrated the Vatican’s computer networks.
A new report from the same group reveals that Beijing’s hacking of Vatican computers has continued unaltered, despite extensive international publicity.
Researchers from Recorded Future’s Insikt Group reported on September 15 that they have continued tracking “the activity of the suspected Chinese state-sponsored threat activity group RedDelta,” which would be responsible for the Vatican hacking.
“In the interim two-month period since previous Insikt Group reporting, RedDelta has largely remained unperturbed by the extensive public reporting on its targeting of the Vatican and other Catholic organizations,” Recorded Future states in the Executive Summary of their report,.
After they were found out, RedDelta took basic operational security measures to avoid detection in the immediate aftermath of the reporting, Recorded Future observes, but “the group’s tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) remained consistent.”
RedDelta resumed its targeting of “both the Vatican and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong mail servers within two weeks of the report publication,” the report declares, indicative of the group’s “high risk tolerance.”
The report also states that RedDelta “continues to operate in line with Chinese strategic priorities,” exemplified by “the group’s continued targeting of the Vatican and Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, and the use of targeted decoy documents centered on topical geopolitical issues of concern to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), such as Catholicism within China.”
It is “unclear” whether the group was able to successfully regain access to the Vatican network, the report notes.
“However, the attempts to do so, followed by the emergence of new RedDelta Catholic church-themed lure documents, again highlight the CCP’s focus on gaining increased oversight of the Catholic community within China,” it states.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the Vatican to place religious liberty in the forefront of its deliberations with China prior to renewing its 2018 accord.
“Communist China continues to persecute Chinese Catholics. USCIRF hopes any future deal between the Vatican & China is rooted in the protection of #religiousfreedom,” the Commission wrote on Twitter.
Both the Vatican and Beijing have signaled a desire to renew their secret 2018 agreement, which ceded to the Chinese Communist Party an unspecified amount of authority in the selection of Catholic bishops in China.
The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, told journalists Monday that the common intention of China and the Holy See is to renew the agreement, which is due to expire in October.
Numerous reports indicate, however, that the situation for Christians in China has deteriorated considerably since the signing of the Vatican-China deal.