When followers went to download 67 pages of instructions for how to “Make a bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” from Inspire Magazine, al-Qaeda’s first English-language magazine, the terrorists were instead greeted with garbled code that was a page of recipes from the Ellen Degeneres Show’s Best Cupcakes in America. MI6 dubbed the cyberattack operation “Operation Cupcake”
The hacked pipe bomb pdf on Inspire’s site was available on Archive.org before it was replaced by the message “The item is not available due to issues with the item's content.”
As for Ellen’s list, it was as innocuous as could be, telling readers to “summon memories of childhood” as they tried out recipes for Mojito, Rocky Road, and Carmel Apple cupcakes.
The only commonality between the two: The Rocky Road Cupcake recipe warned of a “sugar rush ahead!” while the lethal pipe bomb recipe called for sugar, among other ingredients.
MI6 also removed articles by Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda figurehead Ayman al-Zawahiri, and a piece called “What to expect in Jihad.”
The U.S. had hoped to launch a similar cyberattack on Inspire Magazine, but was worried it would expose sources and methods.
Al-Qaeda was able to reissue the magazine two weeks after the cyberattack and has gone on to produce four further editions, but British intelligence says it may continue to target the magazine, which is seen as a dangerous source of propaganda because of its flashy design and English-language stories.
A fake al-Qaeda Twitter account tweeted:
Mmmm, cupcakes. http://goo.gl/4i4tw
Read an explainer of the code MI6 replaced here.