Stuxnet mystery deepens

Security researchers have discovered an obscure biblical reference hidden in the complex code of a powerful, yet enigmatic worm known as Stuxnet.

According to security expert Ralph Langner, the term “Myrtus” (Myrtle tree) is an allusion to the Book of Esther, which chronicles a failed plot against the Jewish populace of ancient Persia.

“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” Langner told the New York Times, explaining that the Hebrew word for myrtle – “Hadassah” – was the birth name of Esther, a Jewish queen of Persia.

Langner also stated that the “weaponized” Stuxnet worm was specifically programmed to disable centrifuges at Iranian nuclear facilities.

“It would be an absolute no-brainer to leave an infected USB stick near one of the [Russian contractors]. 

“And there would be more than a 50 percent chance of having him pick it up and infect his computer.”

Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence topics for the Israeli daily Haaretz, seemed to concur with Langner’s analysis, saying he “suspected” Israel’s  involvement in coding Stuxnet. 

He also pointed out that Israeli military intelligence now estimates Iran will only be capable of fielding a nuclear weapon in 2014.

“They seem to know something, that they have more time than originally thought,” he said.

However, other experts believe the “Myrtus” reference is little more than a red herring deliberately planted to confuse investigators. 

Indeed, Shai Blitzblau of the Israeli-based Maglan security firm remains convinced that the Jewish state had absolutely “nothing” to do with Stuxnet.

“We did a complete simulation of it and we sliced the code to its deepest level,” he told the Times. 

“We have studied its protocols and functionality. Our two main suspects for this are high-level industrial espionage against Siemens and a kind of academic experiment.”

Regardless of Stuxnet’s origins, James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the worm is a clear indication that the age of cyber warfare has begun.

“Cyber war is already here. We are in the same place as we were after the invention of the airplane. It was inevitable someone would work out how to use planes to drop bombs,” Lewis told the Guardian.

“Militaries will now have a cyber-war capability in their arsenals. There are [currently] five that have that capacity, including Russia and China.”