Vatican Brings in Bots to Protect World's Oldest Bible

The Vatican is using artificial intelligence to protect its vast digitized library of ancient artifacts, which includes the world's oldest surviving copy of the Bible.

An average of 100 attempts a month have been made to hack into the virtual version of the Vatican Apostolic Library since digitization of the precious historical collection began in 2012. 

The library's CIO, Manlio Miceli, told the Observer that cyber-attacks against the digital library are increasing. 

“We cannot ignore that our digital infrastructure is of interest to hackers," said Miceli.

Describing what could happen if the library's cyber-defenses were overcome in the current climate of untrustworthy information and fake news, Miceli said that the integrity of the contents of ancient documents could be under threat.  

 "A successful attack could see the collection stolen, manipulated or deleted altogether,” said Miceli.

"We have to protect our online collection so that readers can trust the records are accurate, unaltered history."

Miceli said that defending the library against "trust attacks" was critical in the fight against misinformation.

He said: “While physical damage is often clear and immediate, an attack of this kind wouldn’t have the same physical visibility, and so has the potential to cause enduring and potentially irreparable harm, not only to the archive but to the world’s historical memory."

The library was founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V and is one of the world's most crucial research institutions. Among its 80,000 treasures are ancient Inca manuscripts, drawings and writings by Michelangelo and Galileo, and delicate illustrated fragments of Virgil's Aeneid that are over 1,600 years old. 

So far, just 25% of the library's 41 million pages have been digitized in a process Miceli said intends to “preserve the content of historical treasures without causing damage to the fragile originals” and increase educational equality.

The Vatican has partnered with British cyber-defense company Darktrace to protect the library from threats.

Miceli said: “You cannot throw people at this problem—you need to augment human beings with technology that understands the shades of grey within very complex systems and fights back at machine speed.” 

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