Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Britain’s spy agencies have a new message for terrorists: make cupcakes, not war.
Intelligence agents managed to hack into the extremist Inspire magazine, replacing its bombmaking instructions with a recipe for cupcakes.
It’s the first time the agents sabotaged the English-language magazine linked to U.S.-born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an extremist accused in several recent terror plots.
The quarterly online magazine, which is sent to websites and email addresses as a pdf file, had offered an original page titled “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” in one of its editions last year. The magazine’s pages were corrupted, however, and the instructions replaced with the cupcake recipe.
“We’re increasingly using cybertools as part of our work,” a British government official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters said Friday, confirming that the Inspire magazine had been successfully attacked.
The hackers were reportedly working for Britain’s eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, which has boosted its resources in the past several years.
Despite sharp cuts to defense and intelligence agency budgets, Britain last year authorized an extra 500 million pounds ($815 million) in funding on cyber-related projects. In London talks last month, Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama also pledged to work more closely on cyber research.
Agents from GCHQ have also started to embed themselves with military units on the battlefield, allowing troops to intercept communications, track individuals and providing the military — and governments — with real-time intelligence.
Christopher Painter, the U.S. State Department co-ordinator for cyber issues, said at a cybersecurity conference in London that one of the biggest problems was identifying hackers — whether they be from foreign governments trying to steal secrets or lone hackers.
But choosing to hack into al-Qaida-affiliated websites or other systems is also risky business for intelligence agencies. Infiltrating a site can often expose sources and methods, a second British official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss cybersecurity matters. He would not specify how Inspire was hacked.
British officials consider al-Qaida in the Arabian Pensinsula to be a significant threat to U.K. interests.
Al-Awlaki, thought to be hiding in Yemen, is believed to have inspired and even plotted or helped coordinate recent attacks on the U.S. Those include the failed December 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner and the unsuccessful plot to send mail bombs on planes from Yemen to the U.S. Al-Awlaki also is believed to have inspired the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, and had ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers.
Roshonara Choudhry, a student who was jailed after she stabbed a British lawmaker last May, told police she had listened to 100 hours of al-Awlaki’s online lectures.
Awlaki is a regular contributor to Inspire, offering advice on everything from spiritual questions to recruiting.
“A recipe for cupcakes is better than a recipe for bombs, but it would been more productive if they had put up counter-arguments to al-Qaida,” said James Brandon with the London-based Quilliam Foundation, an anti-extremist organization. “They could have also attacked Awlaki himself. It should be about discrediting these individuals.”
Extremists are increasingly turning to cyberspace to spread their message.
Individuals who say they are affiliated with the Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan have started using Twitter. Several other Internet forums also operate in the UK for jihadist groups, such as Islamic Awakening. Many sites have been left alone so message traffic can be monitored.
Governments around the world are now considering how cybercrimes can be prosecuted under existing international laws and whether a cyberattack could someday be considered an act of war.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)