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Vatican allegedly hacked by China ahead of key talks

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican and the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong have been the targets of alleged Chinese state-backed hackers ahead of talks on renewal of a landmark 2018 deal that helped thaw diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China, according to a monitoring group.

The alleged attacks by a group called RedDelta began in May with an eye on September talks to renew a provisional agreement on bishop appointments, according to a report Tuesday by the U.S.-based Recorded Future, which tracks state-backed cyber attacks. The attacks were first reported by the New York Times.

The Vatican had no immediate comment. The Chinese foreign ministry denied any involvement, calling the report ”groundless speculation.”

Recorded Future said that the Hong Kong Study Mission to China — a key link between the Vatican and China — and the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions also were targeted.

”The suspected intrusion into the Vatican would offer RedDelta insight into the negotiating position of the Holy See ahead of the deal’s September 2020 renewal,” the report said. It also could provide ”valuable intelligence” about Hong Kong-based Catholic entities’ position on the pro-democracy movement.

The attacks continued at least through July 21. They included an apparent phishing attempt with a document on Vatican Secretariat of State letterhead directed to the head of the Hong Kong Study Mission to China.

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