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Jewish Journal

Queen Esther’s cyber revenge

by Brad A. Greenberg

October 3, 2010 | 3:01 pm

The Book of Esther is the story of a Jew who became Queen of Persia and thereby saved the Jewish people from the wicked Haman.

In the modern era, in which Israel faces an existential threat from Iran—a threat to which Israel is not doubt making preemptive plans—the Jewish people could use an Esther. And this being the digital age, it’s not entirely surprisingly that their Esther may be in the form of a computer worm.

The New York Times explains:

That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.

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There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.

“The Iranians are already paranoid about the fact that some of their scientists have defected and several of their secret nuclear sites have been revealed,” one former intelligence official who still works on Iran issues said recently. “Whatever the origin and purpose of Stuxnet, it ramps up the psychological pressure.”

So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.

The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably China, India, Indonesia and Iran. But there are tantalizing hints that Iran’s nuclear program was the primary target. Officials in both the United States and Israel have made no secret of the fact that undermining the computer systems that control Iran’s huge enrichment plant at Natanz is a high priority.

I wonder if it was just a bit of whimsy. Certainly computer coders have been known to have fun with hidden messages.

Anyway, today the Iranian intelligence minister referenced the Stuxnet worm in claiming Iran was under cyberattack from Israel and the United States.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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