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Stephansdom: Vienna woken up after hacker sets church bells to ring at 2am

The famous bells at St. Stephan's cathedral rang for almost half an hour before the priest brought peace and quiet back to Vienna's first district.

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash
St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

At around 2am this Wednesday, 16, Vienna’s landmark St. Stephan’s cathedral was hacked, and the famous bells started ringing. 

The unexpected alarm clock was halted when cathedral priest Toni Faber personally shut them off using his tablet, Vienna’s Archdiocese spokesperson told ORF.

While at first a technical error was suspected, later in the day the surprising culprit was determined: it was a hacker attack. According to Faber, the cybercriminal gained access to the church’s system through a vulnerability at its remote maintenance systems. 

The technology was at blame but was also the solution, as the priest was able to stop the ringing using his tablet. 

Later, the bells were taken off the standard network, and a VPN and further protections were set up. 

Stephansdom

St. Stephan’s (or Stephen’s) cathedral is one of the main symbols of Austria. Located in the centre of Vienna, it is also a tourist magnet: over six million people visit the cathedral every year, according to its website. 

The gothic church has been a cathedral church since 1,365, and it still celebrates catholic services every day of the week, especially during Christian holidays. 

There are several bells in its towers. The most famous one is the Pummerin, which is also the third-largest free-swinging ringing church bell in Europe.

Since the Pummerin is not connected to the internet system, it was not a part of the orchestra this early morning. 

Useful vocabulary

Hackerangriff – hacker attack

Glocken – bells

Dom – cathedral

Kirche – church

Wecker – alarm clock

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ENERGY

Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

Christmas illuminations in Vienna will also be scaled back this year as part of the city's energy saving measures.

Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

Vienna, a city known for its Christmas markets and its New Year concert, is cutting back on public lighting in the face of soaring energy prices.

“There will be no Christmas illuminations this year on the Ring,” the famous boulevard that encircles the centre of the Austrian capital, city spokeswoman Roberta Kraft told AFP.

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And the lights at the Christmas market in the square in front of the city hall would only be switched on at night and not at dusk, as in previous years, “which is to say about an hour later, on average, every day”, she said.

The city authorities said they had not calculated exactly how much they would save, but the move comes after energy prices have skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its response to Western sanctions.

Last Friday, the Austrian Energy Agency announced that its electricity price index for September rose by more than 256 percent year-on-year.

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Austria, with its population of nine million, is very dependent on tourism and its end-of-year celebrations are a major motor of the economy.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down much international travel, more than four million people visited Vienna’s famous Christmas markets in 2019.

In 2021, around 30 of Vienna’s shopping streets were lit up for seven hours a day, from November 12 until early January.

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