Ransomware attack disrupts Word Council of Churches communications'

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Ecumenical Center, Geneva where the World Council of Churches is headquartered. Picture taken on May 10, 2013.

The Geneva-based World Council of Churches says a ransomware attack has disrupted its communications systems, which has shut down it website.

In an initial contact on Dec. 26, the group hacked the systems of the WCC, which represents more than half a billion Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestants said the world church body on Dec. 28.

The hackers asked for a payment, but the WCC did not elaborate on the identity of the cyberattackers.

"The group also threatened to share material worldwide and compromise all the systems. All systems went down on 26 December," said the WCC in an emailed statement.

On Dec. 28 the WCC's system was still down.

The WCC said its IT Team was working hard to restore all the systems, including the WCC website, which have been protected over the years by increasingly robust security.

WCC general secretary Rev. Jerry Pillay condemned the criminal attack.

"It is terrible to experience such things as this, but public roles can lead to attacks like these," said Pillay.

The WCC said it continues to take the necessary steps to protect its security, and has already informed the Swiss police and other relevant Swiss authorities.

"We will continue our work," said Pillay. "The WCC will never give in to such threats. These people must be investigated and stopped."

Pillay noted he is convinced, more than ever, that a strong voice for digital justice is needed.

"In pursuit of technological progress, human beings cannot misuse these for personal gains," he said.

Pillay has called on all staff, member churches and partners of the WCC to remain vigilant and alert of any hoaxes that may be spread in the name of the WCC by the hackers.

Across the border from Switzerland the Vatican is no stranger to ransomware attacks.

The Vatican was forced to take down its main vatican.va website on Nov. 15 and soon admitted it had detected apparent attempts to hack it, Cybernews, citing news agencies had reported.

"Technical investigations are ongoing due to abnormal attempts to access the site," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told Reuters on November 30, without elaboration.

The website was down for at least two days. Attempts by Cybernews to access the Latin version of vatican.va were met with "404" error messages.

It's not clear who the alleged hackers are, although there is precedent for hacking groups targeting the Vatican because of statements by Pope Francis, commented Cybernews.

It said a Turkish hacker broke into the Holy See's website after the pope called the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by Turks a "genocide."

"The educated guess this time would be that Russians did it – the attack came a day after Russian politicians criticized Pope Francis for his comments about Russia's invasion of Ukraine in a recent interview with a Jesuit magazine," said Cybernews.

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