Denver, Colo., Mar 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
An internet security firm’s report on an apparent anti-Catholic “hacktivism” attack has renewed interest in an assault on World Youth Day computers in August 2011.
Rafael Rubio, communications director of World Youth Day, said Feb. 28 that the electronic assault that took place during the Aug. 17-21, 2011 event caused some disruptions but that they “survived the attack more or less,”
The hackers’ actions had an effect on days when the server crashed, but event organizers had set up a warning system and a social network system asking volunteers and others to report if they noticed the servers going down.
“(T)hanks to the early warning system we set up on the social networks, we were able to respond to the attacks in real time, and the site was only down for a few hours.”
Rubio said the consequences could have been serious.
“In reality, any kind of attack like this not only could have brought down the website but the mail servers as well, and that really would have caused the collapse of the entire organization,” he said.
The California-based computer security company Imperva has reportedly analyzed the attack in a new report called “The Anatomy of an Anonymous Attack.”
Robert Rachwald, Director of Security Strategies at Imperva, told CNA he would not confirm or deny that the World Youth Day site was the target examined in the report. The New York Times said two people briefed on the investigation confirmed that “the Vatican” had been the target, meaning the World Youth Day website www.madrid11.com.
Yago de la Cierva, executive director of the World Youth Day Madrid organizing committee, said Feb. 28 that the attacks were “very limited” in scope.
“They mostly made life hard for accredited journalists, who had to wait longer for their registration and had to receive the translations of the Pope’s words in print, instead of in electronic format. But otherwise, there were no major effects and the pilgrims never noticed anything.”
In mid-2011, hackers posted a video on the World Youth Day website threatening some kind of attack. The event’s web services provider Telefonica then organized several meetings to reinforce security and to ensure the website had enough capacity to respond to increased traffic.
Rubio was unsure whether Telefonica had contracted with Imperva, though Rachwald said the website examined in the report used an Imperva application firewall product that worked “beautifully.”
The Imperva report found 25 consecutive days of hacker activity: 19 days of preparation, communications and recruitment; four days of reconnaissance and hacking tool attacks; and finally a two-day denial-of-service attack distributed across many computers.
In the recruitment and communications phase, the Anonymous branch created a website and used Twitter and Facebook to publicize it. YouTube videos also “rationalized the attack by denigrating the target and exposing perceived transgressions,” Imperva said. One such promotional video received over 72,000 views.
The Anonymous campaign “Operation Pharisee” specifically targeted World Youth Day, citing clergy sex abuse as a motive for protest. One of the campaign’s recruitment videos used a computer-generated voice and stock video of a man in a Guy Fawkes mask. It called Pope Benedict XVI a “Pharisee.”
“It’s outrageous seeing how many young people march like sheep to the Vatican’s orgy that will take place in Madrid,” the English-language video said.
“It’s humiliating seeing all the crowd in ecstasy, loving Benedict XVI like a god,” it continued, showing a video of cheerful Catholics at a youth event.
The video cited several Bible verses. It attacked the sacrament of confession for encouraging “dependency of souls,” saying that people should confess directly to God. The video also charged that the Catholic Church is using Jesus’ image to get rich and that it is hypocritical for the Pope to wear ornate liturgical dress while condemning vanity.
“Prepare your weapons, my dear brother, for this Aug. 17-21,” the video concluded. “We will drop the anger over the Vatican.”
Eighteen days into the attack, a group of “savvy hackers” then evaluated the security of the targeted website, the Imperva report says. They used hacking tools and anonymity services to disguise their identity. They kept a “low profile,” but still created relatively high internet traffic compared to normal days.
The hackers failed to find vulnerabilities in the website’s applications and fell back on a distributed denial-of-service attack intended to flood the target’s web server with crippling levels of traffic. This tactic used recruited individuals to run programs on their computers and mobile devices. Many of these recruits did not use anonymity services.
About 500,000 denial-of-service attacks happened on the first day of this phase, while almost 600,000 happened the following day. One PC can generate up to 200 attacks per second.
The Imperva report advised potential targets’ internet security staff to monitor social media for hints of coming attacks.
“Hacktivism is loud by definition,” the report said.
Rachwald said the use of social media is “the only thing that’s really unique about this attack.”
“Typically an attack is not pre-announced,” he explained.
“The big difference with hacktivism in general is they need to recruit and they need to announce ‘We’re going after target X.’”
Such hackers are typically after user data, he explained. In one instance, hackers under the banner of Anonymous stole user data from Sony and exposed information on 100,000 credit cards, causing customer outrage and a drop in stock prices. They also exposed police officer data from the San Francisco mass transit system.
“If you steal and expose data, then you can really hurt an organization,” he said. “What they’re looking for is vulnerabilities around data exposure.”
Traditional defenses such as network firewalls, anti-virus programs and intrusion protection cannot be the sole defense, he advised. A proper application security program is necessary for websites that transact user information and for e-commerce sites where goods and services are sold.
“Whoever was in charge of security in this case had the foresight to recognize that data would be a target,” Rachwald said. “I think that recognition is really, really important.”
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi reported Feb. 27 that there were “no problems” in the Vatican from the hacker attack because the World Youth Day website systems were “totally independent.”
World Youth Day communication’s director Rubio characterized the attack as “a waste of time” and “disrespectful.”
He saw the targeting of World Youth Day as “an obvious sign of the worldwide impact that World Youth Day was having at that moment.”
“We never really understood, because the video wasn’t clear either, what they hoped to gain by attacking World Youth Day. I think the only thing they wanted was attention.”
Additional reporting by Walter Sanchez Silva in Lima and David Kerr in Rome.
Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 2, 2012 (CNA) - A NASA mission specialist allegedly demoted for his beliefs about intelligent design is suing Jet Propulsion Laboratories in a civil trial to begin in Los Angeles March 7.
David Coppedge was a lead information technology specialist on the laboratories' Cassini mission to Saturn before his demotion and it suing his employer on the grounds of religious discrimination.
The former NASA worker charges that he was demoted after he voiced his beliefs about intelligent design, the theory that the organization of biological life and the universe indicates the existence of an intelligent cause.
“Employees shouldn’t be threatened with termination and punished for sharing their opinion with willing co-workers just because the view being shared doesn’t fit the prevailing view in the workplace,” said Coppedge’s attorney William Becker, who is allied with the Alliance Defense Fund.
The Alliance Defense Fund characterized the theory of intelligent design as a scientific theory that makes no reference to religion and that has many non-religious adherents.
“Mr. Coppedge has always maintained that intelligent design is a scientific theory, but JPL has illegally discriminated against him on the basis of what they deem is 'religion.'”
Coppedge's lawyers also said that he discussed intelligent design with wiling co-workers and offered colleagues DVDs on the subject when they expressed interest.
However, his supervisor said that co-workers complained about his actions, and he was given a written warning describing his actions as harassing in nature and disruptive to the workplace. He was then removed from the “team lead” position on the Cassini mission, the Christian Post reported in January 2011.
The laboratories are operated by the California Institute of Technology under a contract with NASA. Coppedge first sued in the summer of 2010 and was fired in January 2011.
Vatican City, Mar 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican revealed details of the meditations being preached to Pope Benedict XVI during his weeklong Lenten retreat led by Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa in the Congo.
“To live in truth,” the cardinal told the Pope, “is is to live according to the Beatitudes. It means repudiating the lies of our words and actions. It means rejecting the hypocrisy which impels us to appear other than as we are.”
In a Vatican communiqué released on March 2, the Cardinal said this is as true for the Church collectively as it is for each individual “so that the truth of Christ's Gospel may be known and lived.”
Since Sunday evening, Cardinal Pasinya has been leading the Pope and the Roman Curia in three meditations a day interspersed with praying the Divine Office and Eucharistic Adoration. As a result, all private and public Papal engagements were canceled this week including Wednesday’s General Audience.
The theme for the week has been “the communion of Christians with God,” with Cardinal Pasinya reflecting upon God as light, truth, mercy and loving guide, before turning to consider love of the world, lack of faith in Christ and the sin of priests.
He began, however, with “the sign of the cross” saying that it was much more than habit but an “act whereby we add the splendor of knowledge and the dynamism of freedom to our every action.” It is a sign which means “sacrifice for love. It is death for resurrection.”
In his mediation upon God as “the way, truth and life,” Cardinal Pasinya said that despite many of the horrors of the modern world – including war, genocide and abortion – we must never been indifferent “to repression and man’s exploitation of man.”
“Even if the mystery of sin is beyond us,” he said “we must walk in the light” or “in other words, we must choose to abandon sin.”
Understanding God as truth is particularly important for people “who have no awareness of their own sins, for people who have lost the sense of sin because they no longer pose themselves the problem of God.”
It is also important for those who no longer possess moral criteria and confuse good with evil, he said, adding that this was a tendency related to “religious indifference which affirms that all religious are alike but which, in reality, is seeking a lax morality.”
He cautioned the gathering of clerics that this phenomena can also affect priests “in the measure to which spiritual barrenness leads them into the same defects,” and when “Priestly ministry thus becomes mere functionality and has no true sense of God.”
The Cardinal then warned priests against putting themselves into occasions where sin is more likely stating that “Our generosity does not protect us from sin. We must be prudent, and not recklessly expose ourselves to the possibility of falling.”
And he offered the response of the penitent St. Peter following his betrayal of Jesus as a model of how a priest should react upon falling into sin.
“In all situations, whatever happens, the Lord is always at our side. The biggest affront we can show him is to doubt in his mercy, as Judas did.”
The retreat in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel concludes tomorrow, Saturday March 3.
Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 2, 2012 (CNA) - Two armed men entered a perpetual adoration chapel in in Mexico during the early morning hours on Feb. 29 and stole the monstrance containing the Eucharist.
“The kinds of acts undoubtedly manifest a lack of respect for God in his Church and a lack of values,” said the Diocese of Orizaba, which located in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
According to the diocese, the men overpowered the five people who were in the chapel and locked them inside before making off with the monstrance.
“As the Church, such a cowardly act hurts and concerns us, but what mainly disturbs us is what they are going to do with the Holy Eucharist, which as we Catholics know is the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the diocese added.
Diocesan spokesman, Marcos Palacios, said that the local Church doesn't want “the monstrance back, we want the Host. We ask those who took it to bring back, even anonymously if they want.”
In the wake the incident, the diocese decided to close the chapel temporarily “to express our sorrow and offer this reaction in penance for the acts that were committed.”
The diocese also invited Catholics to join in a march of reparation on March 2 through the streets of Orizaba to the Cathedral. The Eucharist will be carried in procession after which Bishop Marcelino Hernandez Rodriguez will preside at Mass.
The diocese thanked local officials for their support and encouraged Catholics to pray “for the conversion of those who carried out this sacrilegious act. May God strengthen our Church in such a difficult trial.”
Vatican City, Mar 2, 2012 (CNA) -
A Holy See official says there is nothing mysterious about the Vatican Secret Archives that have recently gone on display, but that they normally remain private because of their incalculable value.
“The doors of the Vatican Secret Archives have essentially been open since 1881 to qualified researchers who wish to carry historical research that is generally drawn out and complicated,” Msgr. Sergio Pagano, the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, told CNA.
The current “Lux in Arcana” exhibit at Rome’s Capitoline Museum was created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Vatican's Secret Archives and includes notable items such as the 1521 decree from Pope Leo X excommunicating German monk Martin Luther.
Msgr. Pagano noted that the expo that opened this week marks the first time in 400 years that the public at large has been granted extensive access to the Vatican Archives.
It includes some of the most treasured documents of the Archives as well as multimedia resources allowing visitors to learn about the work of the Popes throughout the centuries.
Among the documents on display is one of the last letters written by Queen Mary of Scots, who told Pope Sixtus V she was giving her life in defense of the Catholic faith.
Msgr. Pagano said the letter was written while Queen Mary “was in prison awaiting her death. In it she expresses her sentiments of fidelity as a Catholic saying that she is dying because of the injustice of Protestant England and because of her sins. This letter has great religious significance,” he said.
Pier Paolo Piergentile, official in charge of the display, said the letter is “a sort of spiritual testament that she wrote professing her faith and asking the Pope to in some way testify to her belonging to the Catholic lineage, to the Catholic faith of her predecessors.”
Cardinal Raffaele Farina, the head of the Archives, said the purpose of the display is to shed light on the idea that the public in general has about the Vatican Secret Archives.
He noted that other items on display include documents related to the case of Galileo and the Bull from members of the English Parliament to Pope Clement VII on the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage.
The display also includes documents from the period of Pius XII on the bombardment of the Vatican during World War.
The exhibition will be open to the public through Sept. 9.
Washington D.C., Mar 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The U.S. Congress and numerous celebrities are joining the effort to free an Iranian pastor who received the death sentence for refusing to reject his Christian faith.
On March 1, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution condemning the Iranian government for “its continued persecution, imprisonment, and sentencing” of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani on apostasy charges.
The resolution calls on Iran to “exonerate and immediately and unconditionally release” Nadarkhani and all others who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs.
Introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), the resolution observed that Iran’s own constitution recognizes religious freedom, as does the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran has signed.
A similar resolution is being considered by the U.S. Senate.
“The House sent a clear message today,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) on March 1. “Religious freedom is a universal human right.”
“No person – of any country or creed – should live in fear of persecution for worshipping as they see fit, or be forced by government mandate to disavow or compromise their faith.”
Nadarkhani has been in jail since 2009, when he was arrested after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Koran at school.
An Iranian court ordered the pastor to recant his Christian beliefs or face execution. Despite repeated threats, he has refused to renounce his faith.
On Feb. 21, the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been working for Nadarkhani’s release, said that it had received reports that an execution order had been issued for the pastor.
It urged increased international attention and pressure on the Iranian government to prevent it from carrying out the execution, which could take place at any time.
The U.S. State Department and White House have both called for Nadarkhani’s release. In addition, several members of Congress have spoken up on Twitter, including Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who has posted multiple updates about the House resolution.
The social media effort to support Nadarkhani has also gained the attention of numerous celebrities, including several famous athletes, actresses and media personalities.
NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and international soccer icon Ricardo Kaká have both tweeted about Nadarkhani, as have businessman Donald Trump and political commentators Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter.
Actresses Julie Benz and Patricia Heaton also sent out tweets about the pastor’s plight and urged their followers to do the same.
Several of the celebrities have also signed on to a Twitter campaign in which they allow one tweet per day to be sent from their account to advocate for Nadarkhani.
The campaign, organized by the American Center for Law and Justice, has been very successful, reaching nearly 1 million Twitter accounts per day.
Rome, Italy, Mar 2, 2012 (CNA) - The first anniversary of the murder of Pakistan Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti witnessed several memorials and acclamations for the man many say should be declared a martyr.
Scotland's Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien has said the Catholic Church should “very seriously examine” whether he might be declared a saint.
“From what we know of his life and work Shahbaz Bhatti appears to have been a true man of God, who led a life of heroic virtue,” the Archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh told Aid to the Church in Need March 2.
“His commitment to Christ suggests that here is an individual whose life and faith is worthy of examination and it may be that in the fullness of time Shahbaz Bhatti is raised to the dignity of the altars.”
Bhatti, a Catholic and the only Christian in Pakistan’s cabinet, defended the freedom of religious minorities and spoke against persecution before he was murdered by gunmen last year.
“Shahbaz Bhatti left a deep impression of an honest and deeply committed public servant,” Archbishop emeritus Lawrence J. Saldanha said in a Feb. 25 statement sent to CNA. “He was quite different from the rest of the self-serving and corrupt politicians. He was a staunch, practicing Catholic and inspired by the life of Jesus Christ. Like Christ, he stood up for truth, justice and freedom for the common man.”
“This witness of imitation of Christ finally lead him to shed his blood for his people. He is considered a ‘martyr’ by the Christian people. They mourn the loss of a committed champion of their rights.”
The minister was a strong critic of Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy law, saying it was consistently used to harass and intimidate religious minorities, mostly Christians. The law imposes sentences including execution and life imprisonment for offenses against Islam.
Bhatti’s opposition to the law resulted in death threats from Islamic extremists.
On March 2, 2011, he was attacked by three men as he left his mother’s home in Islamabad by car. Two men pulled the minister from the car while a third shot him with an automatic weapon.
A leaflet left at the scene called Bhatti an “infidel Christian.” They charged that he was on a committee working to overturn the blasphemy law, though the Pakistan government has denied the existence of such a committee. His assailants still have not been arrested.
In February 2011, he had told Vatican-based Fides news agency that he would not change his stance.
“Pray for me and for my life,” he said. “I am a man who has burnt his bridges. I cannot and will not go back on this commitment. I will fight fanaticism and fight in defense of Christians to the death.”
He also recorded a video to be released in the event of his death.
“I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of ‘cross,’ and I follow Him to the cross,” Bhatti said.
Cardinal O’Brien said it would be “wonderful” to think that Bhatti could become “a patron for justice and peace in Pakistan or indeed Asia.”
In March 2011, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Pakistan unanimously decided to make a formal request that the Vatican name Bhatti as a “martyr and patron of religious freedom.”
Archbishop Saldanha said there are plans to build a monument to Bhatti in his native village of Khushpur, calling it “a permanent memorial to a brave and selfless leader, who rose to the highest office possible for a Christian.”
With the cooperation of Aid to the Church in Need, the British Pakistani Christian Association is organizing a March 10 peace rally and concert in London to commemorate the anniversary of Bhatti’s death and to call for changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Two events in Rome on March 2 also marked the anniversary.
At the Pontifical Lateran University, Bhatti biographer Francesca Milano presented her Italian-language biography of the slain Christian, “Death of a Blasphemer.”
"I discovered a man very in love with his nation, with the people of his nation, in spite of the difficulties,” Milano told CNA at the university. “Nevertheless, Shahbaz Bhatti wasn't afraid of these problems. He was a man who threw himself into confronting them. And he didn't only help Christians, he wanted to do well also for others and this was a fantastic thing.”
Bhatti was “such a phenomenal person” for the country that Pakistan’s Muslims also recognized his quality.
“It's not a question of religion, it's an operational question, a question of what he did for his nation, for the poorest, for the desperate,” she continued.
Milano cited his work to help those in need during disastrous earthquakes and floods. During one flood, Bhatti heard of a family trapped in their home. He went to their house and personally waded through mud and water to bring the children and then the parents to safety.
Bhatti’s brother Paul, now a special counselor to the Ministry for Minorities, is “carrying forward his brother’s fight,” a fact Milano called “a sign of hope.”
Prof. Mobeen Shahid, a Pontifical Lateran University professor who was a personal friend of Bhatti, said he was “martyred for his faith.
He was “faithful and coherent” in both his personal testimony and in his politics.
“It's not easy being coherent as a Christian and it's that much more difficult to do so in the political arena.”
“Unfortunately, he was killed and is no longer with us, but his beautiful words should be an example for us all so that we can always look at the Gospel and try to imitate that message in our lives,” Shahid told CNA.
The professor recounted walking the old streets of Rome’s city center with Bhatti, who said he was not interested in the distractions of Rome.
“What I'm interested in the most is how I can understand better the possible solutions to defend my Christians and how my life could be an example and how my actions can be an action of the comprehension of the cross,” Bhatti said, according to Shahid.
On the evening of March 2, the St. Egidio Community commemorated Bhatti at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew. Modern martyrs are remembered in the basilica’s side chapels.
Bhatti’s personal Bible, donated by his brother Paul, is displayed in the basilica’s Chapel of Asian Martyrs.
Luisa Santolini, president of the Italian parliamentary association Friends of Pakistan, told CNA that she remembers Bhatti “as a martyr who truly has brought fruits.”
Bhatti co-founded the association and hoped to create similar initiatives for parliaments in other nations.
“These events we have held on the anniversary demonstrate his memory,” Santolini said. “The fact that the Islamic ambassador came to remember him makes us remember that the blood of the martyrs always leaves a path to follow and we have the duty to follow this trail.”