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The Mytus Worm
January 25, 2011 by Howard Blas

Is Israel behind the worm that is wreaking havoc on Iran’s nuclear program?

It is 2:00am and the room is dark, lit only by the screen of his laptop. While the rest of the city sleeps, he is wide awake, programming. It’s a test of skill, a quest for power. He wants to see if he can do it, if he has what it takes to penetrate a secure network and spread a computer virus throughout the world.

Or maybe he is a she. The sun shines brightly in the afternoon sky as she works to create a worm that will wreak havoc in Iran’s nuclear power plants. For her, it’s all in a day’s work. She was trained by an Israeli intelligence unit for just such a mission. Many lives—millions of Israeli lives—depend on her unit’s success.

Or maybe the hacker is someone else entirely.

SPREADING STUXNET
Worms and viruses are forms of malware, or malicious software. They are designed to access a computer system without permission in order to harm the data or performance of the computer—whether it belongs to an individual, a company, or a country. Worms use computer networks to send copies to other computers on the network. They are the ones who raid your e-mail address book and send messages to all your friends.

The creator of a worm known as Stuxnet—whether similar to one of these fictional sketches or not—is responsible for much destruction. The worm, first detected in 2009, has spread through computers in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Russia, and Iran. Sixty percent of the computers world-wide infected by Stuxnet were in Iran, including a command module at an Iranian nuclear facility. The fact that so many Iranian computers were infected suggests that Iran is the real target of the malicious virus. “It’s pretty clear based on the infection behavior that installations in Iran are being targeted,” explained Kevin Hogan, Senior Director of Security Response at Symantec.

But who is doing the targeting? Where did the worm come from and why does it target Iran? Only the real programmer knows for sure who produced this nearly untraceable, imperceptible worm. But, at the moment, many fingers are pointed at Israel.

WHY SUSPECT ISRAEL?
The Stuxnet worm is slowing down Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons by sabotaging its computers. The United States and Israel are top Stuxnet suspects because both countries openly admit that they want to undermine Iran’s uranium enrichment plant. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has repeatedly said that the Jewish state will die, and many perceive his speeches as calls to destroy Israel. Israel wants to prevent Iran from having the weapons to do just that.

In addition, Israel has emerged as a top suspect because of a possible link to the Purim story. One of the files in the Stuxnet code is called “Myrtus,” which some security experts believe is an allusion to Esther, the well-known queen of King Ahashverosh. In Megillat Esther we learn that Esther had two meaningful names: “And [Mordechai] had reared Hadassah, she is Esther…” (Esther 2:7). The name Esther means “hidden.” The name Hadassah, on the other hand, comes from the Hebrew word hadas, or myrtle—one of the plants also used in the four species of Sukkot—since her complexion was olive green like myrtle leaves. In addition, the Purim story took place in Iran.

Although Myrtus, as used in the Stuxnet worm, might simply refer to the myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region, some are fairly convinced of the Esther/Hadassah/Myrtle/Myrtus connection and its implication of an Israeli link. Yossi Melman, a reporter for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, told the New York Times that he suspects Israel was involved. Others, including Shai Blitzblau, an Israeli information security expert, doubt that Israel had a hand in spreading the worm. Blitzblau’s computer warfare company studied the worm extensively and he is “convinced that Israel had nothing to do with Stuxnet.” For now, at least, this case remains unsolved.

THE JEWISH VIEW
In the Purim story, Haman plotted to annihilate the Jews. Instead of accepting their fate, however, the Jews staged a successful pre-emptive strike against Haman, his ten sons, and the people in Ahashverosh’s kingdom who were out to kill. This was clearly an act of self-defense against a rodef (an attacker who presents a clear and direct threat to human life).

Judaism permits people to defend themselves against an unjust pursuer of human life—a rodef –and even kill the rodef to save a human life when no other way to save innocent people is presented (Shemot 22:1 and Sanhedrin 72a). Although Jewish law does not allow the destruction of someone else’s property for no reason (including someone else’s computer system), such destruction would be permitted to save the life of a human being.

If Iran is in fact developing nuclear weapons in order to wipe out Israel, then the State of Israel has the right to protect its citizens from nuclear annihilation, if need be, by killing the people who are constructing these weapons of mass destruction, and certainly by inflicting damage to property of those who are seeking to kill its citizens. Indeed, Jewish law maintains—as do most legal systems—that while one cannot kill innocent people to save the life of other innocent people, one may damage the property of innocent people to save human lives. Even if “innocent computers” were destroyed by the Stuxnet virus, that would be permitted to save the lives of innocent people.
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