Vatican City, Mar 1, 2022 / 05:10 am (CNA).
An online press conference by a Catholic charity on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine was disrupted by hackers on Tuesday morning.
As soon as Aloysius John, general secretary of Caritas Internationalis, began to speak at the press conference, held on March 1 via the video conference platform Zoom, he was drowned out by a stream of obscenities.
The initial disruption was followed by interruptions in different voices, including those of children, lasting for at least three minutes. Zoom accounts also shared obscenities in the group chat feature of the call.
More than 200 people had tuned in to the online press conference, which featured a Ukrainian Catholic priest and the president of Caritas Ukraine as speakers.
After the meeting’s administrators forced out those causing the audio interruptions, obscenities continued to be added in the Zoom chat.
Marta Petrosillo, Caritas Internationalis’ communications director, said: “I’m sorry, we have a hacker sending messages on behalf of participants. We apologize for that, but we won’t stop witnessing,”
Press conference participants said that some of the messages in the chat being posted from their accounts were not written by them.
“Sorry messages on my name are sent … but I’m not sending them,” wrote one participant.
“And this is NOT my message,” wrote another.
Petrosillo told CNA that Caritas Internationalis had not identified who hacked the press conference — a practice known as “Zoom bombing” — at the time of publication.
The Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities had shared the Zoom link to the press conference publicly on Twitter.
Experts have accused Russia of using hacking, cyberwarfare, and disinformation in its conflict with Ukraine.
In January, about 70 Ukrainian government websites were hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, according to the BBC. Officials in Kyiv believe that Russia was responsible.
U.S. officials have said that the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate was responsible for DDoS attacks that took down websites for two banks and the Ukrainian army website on Feb. 15-16.
Ukraine’s cyber defense also issued a warning on Feb. 25 about widespread phishing attacks against Ukrainians, in which targets are tricked into giving personal information.
A cyberattack on Ukraine’s power plants in 2015 left more than 200,000 people without electricity.
U.S. banks are now preparing for retaliatory cyber attacks after they implemented sanctions against Russia, according to Reuters. Among the threats are ransomware and malware attacks, denial-of-service attacks that take down websites, and data wiping and theft.
The BBC has reported that some of the cyber attacks on Ukrainian government websites did not come from the Russian government but a group of “so-called ‘patriotic’ Russian hackers” who cause online disruptions without direct orders from the Russian state.
Caritas Internationalis launched an emergency appeal to provide relief to Ukraine after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country on Feb. 24.
The appeal will provide food, drinking water, safe accommodation, and hygiene kits to those affected by the conflict. The money raised will also assist with safe transportation for people seeking to reach loved ones in safe areas. Donations can be made on the Caritas Internationalis website.
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of more than 160 Catholic aid organizations working at the grassroots level around the world. There are two member organizations in Ukraine: Caritas Ukraine, overseen by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Caritas-Spes, operated by Ukraine’s Latin Rite Catholic Church.
Father Vyacheslav Grynevych, the executive director of Caritas-Spes, was among the speakers at the press conference.
“Our cities, homes, and kindergartens have been destroyed. But no one will succeed in destroying our aspirations for peace and freedom,” Grynevych said in a video appeal prior to the press conference.
“In this dramatic moment, we courageously continue to help people in need,” he said.