Thu | Nov 12, 2020 | 9:52 AM PST

The Vatican Apostolic Library is home to more than 80,000 irreplaceable documents, as well as the oldest copy of the Bible in the world.

To preserve and protect their artifacts—which include drawings and writings from the likes of Michelangelo and Galileo—the library is making the transition to digitize anything of importance.

This move began in 2012 and is still an ongoing process. But because of the value of these artifacts, the library has had to deal with an average of 100 cyber threats per month since beginning digitization.

The Vatican digitizes its library

Pope Nicholas V founded the library in 1451, and it has grown to be one of the world's most important institutions with an unbelievable collection of manuscripts, books, and artwork.  

In total, the library plans on digitizing roughly 41 million pages. They began with the most unique and famous pieces, such as Sandro Botticelli's Divine Comedy and Virgil's Aeneid. The library has digitized approximately 25% of its documents so far.

Manilo Miceli, the Chief Information Officer of the library, told The Guardian this transition comes with risk.

"We cannot ignore that our digital infrastructure is of interest to hackers. A successful attack could see the collection stolen, manipulated or deleted altogether."

And he had this to say regarding the benefits of the digitization process.

"This project is about a lot more than just physical preservation. Swaths of history, previously explored only by white-gloved historians, are now made available to anyone with a internet connection. This is a huge step for educational equality."

Cyberattacks could undermine credibility of ancient documents

Miceli says the threats go well beyond just deleting ancients texts.

"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. In the era of fake news, these collections play an important role in the fight against misinformation and so defending them against 'trust attacks' is critical.

It turns out, the Vatican is worried about the same thing other organizations are facing.

"Less Hollywood, but still concerning, is a ransomware attack on the library.... These attacks have the potential to impact the Vatican library's reputation—one it has maintained for hundreds of years—and have significant financial ramifications that could impact our ability to digitize the remaining manuscripts."

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