Did the creator(s) of the Stuxnet virus currently attacking Iranian computers leave a clue about their origins?
This New York Times piece is compelling:
Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran's race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.
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.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel's intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran's nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.
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.
Israel certainly has the technical expertise to launch such a virus but some experts believe they may have needed some help in penetrating the Iranian networks so completely. This was no attack on isolated systems but rather a broad based penetration of entire networks requiring more assets than the Israelis may possess, as well as requiring specific intelligence about how these networks interacted.
Whatever or whoever is behind it, the Stuxnet attack represents a whole new ballgame in cyber-warfare.