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Possible biblical clue seen in computer worm hitting Iran
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.
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 an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther, and as a warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Iran’s nuclear project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation to implicate Israel.
Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”
“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.”
New U.S. sanctions
Meanwhile, the Obama administration stepped up pressure against Iran’s government Wednesday, slapping financial and travel sanctions on eight Iranian officials and accusing them of taking part in rampant human rights abuses.
Under an executive order signed this week by President Barack Obama, the State and Treasury departments jointly announced the sanctions that target Iranians who “share responsibility for the sustained and severe violation of human rights in Iran,” notably after last year’s disputed presidential elections.
The move bars the eight Iranians from entering the United States, blocks any of their U.S. assets and prohibits Americans from doing business with them
John Markoff and David E. Sanger THE NEW YORK TIMES