New York, Sept.30 (ANI): Cyber defense experts in the United States and Israel have reportedly found a way to slow Iran's race for a nuclear weapon, but the report is still said to be unconfirmed.
They have apparently discovered a computer worm or code that makes a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.
According to the New York Times, the 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.
The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably in India, Indonesia and Iran.
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.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyber war unit it has built inside Israel's intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyber defenses 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 cyber war 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.
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.
So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.
Yet, something - perhaps the worm or some other form of sabotage, bad parts or a dearth of skilled technicians - is indeed slowing Iran's advance.
Reports on Iran show a fairly steady drop in the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the main Natanz plant. After reaching a peak of 4,920 machines in May 2009, the numbers declined to 3,772 centrifuges this past August, the most recent reporting period.
That is a decline of 23 percent.
Computer experts say the first versions of the worm appeared as early as 2009 and that the sophisticated version contained an internal time stamp from January of this year. (ANI)