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Chinese hackers target members of the Hong Kong Catholic Church

Catholic Church

Chinese government hackers have targeted members of the Hong Kong Catholic Church in the context spear-phishing campaign which took place in May.

The attacks were revealed after reports said that some of Hong Kong leaders and clerics were directly involved in supporting pro-democracy demonstrations, despite the Vatican's orders to remain neutral.

Spear-phishing campaign It is said to have been carried out by Chinese government hacking groups seeking to spy on Hong Kong religious leaders following pro-democracy protests.

Spear-phishing campaign

The current ones attacks revealed earlier this week by a malware analyst known online as Alias Arkbird.

In an interview, the researcher said he discovered samples of malware commonly used by Chinese hacking groups. The samples were uploaded to VirusTotal.

The malware files were files ZIP and RAR and contained Windows executables archives.

According to the analysis, executing the files triggers a legitimate one application, As the Microsoft Word or Adobe Reader.

Legal applications upload a document, such as a message from Vatican officials or news articles from the Union of Catholic Asian News, a news portal that presents issues and affairs of the Catholic Church and its communities throughout Asia.

Chinese hackers

Arkbird says that in addition to legal applications and bait documents, a malicious DLL file, which installs malware at computer of the victim, using a technique known as DLL-sideloading.

Fred Plan, an analyst at the American company security FireEye, said the Chinese hackers have been using this particular version of DLL-sideloading for years.

Plan, who reviewed Arkbird's findings, said payload was malware known as PlugX, one trojan remote access that allows attackers to take control of victims' devices.

Arkbird attributed the malware samples to a group known as Mustang Panda, a Chinese hacking team famous for using the DLL-sideloading technique, but also for targeting religious groups. This seems to have happened to her now attack to members of the Catholic Church.

We do not yet have a comment from a representative of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.

The complicated China-Vatican relationship

Relations between China and the Vatican have improved in recent years, but are still "strange". They broke all diplomatic ties in 1951. At that time, Beijing's newly formed Communism began destroying all religious groups in order to bring the structures of local leaders under the control of the Communist Party.

After the fall, China began appointing its head bishops across the country, a move that split the Chinese Catholic community.

Some continued to attend official government churches with party-imposed bishops, while others chose "underground churches" - not recognized by the China and from the Vatican.

Relations between China and the Holy See began to improve in the 2000s, as China became a little more conciliatory and both parties began to negotiate a cooperation agreement.

The agreement, signed in September 2018, allowed the Pope to continue to control the affairs of the Catholic Church, having the power to appoint bishops, who, however, must also be approved by the Communist Party.

The deal is expected to be renewed in September, and many Hong Kong Holy See officials said they should not publicly support the protests, fearing that the Chinese leadership could isolate the Chinese Catholic community again.

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