Mystery of Cicada 3301

Cicada 3301

You probably heard about a new challenge that has been set for the world’s most skillful codebreakers by the enigmatic Cicada 3301 organization.

Yes, Cicada 3301, a nickname given to an organization that on three occasions has posted a set of puzzles to possibly recruit codebreakers/linguists from the public.

Who is behind Cicada 3301? How did it all begin? Even, what was it created for?

Let's explore all these mysterious things in this article -

Cicada 3301 is the name given to a faceless organization or person who has been setting insanely complex challenges to code-breakers on the internet since 2012. The first internet puzzle started on January 4, 2012, and ran for approximately one month. A second round began one year later on January 4, 2013, and a third round following the confirmation of a fresh clue posted on Twitter on January 4, 2014. The puzzles focused heavily on data security, cryptography, and steganography. It has been called - the most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age and is listed as one of the top 5 unsolved mysteries of the internet, and much speculation exists as to its function.

Why was it created?

Some people have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a secret society with the goal of improving cryptography, privacy, and anonymity. Others have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a cult or religion. According to statements of several people who claimed about winning puzzle, typically uses 3301 non-puzzle-based recruiting methods, but created the Cicada puzzles because they looked for potential members with cryptography and computer security skills. Anonymous individuals have claimed to have completed the process, but verification from the organization was never made and the individuals making the claim have not been forthcoming with information.

The purpose of the puzzles is to recruit highly intelligent individuals each year, though the ultimate purpose remains unknown. According to the first puzzle of 2012, the person who solved the puzzles were asked questions about their support of information freedom, online privacy and freedom, and rejection of censorship.

Those who responded satisfied answer, at that stage, were invited to a private forum where they were instructed to devise and complete a project intended to further the ideals of the group. Those who didn't finish their work on a method of general decryption, their websites were removed immediately.

Many have speculated that the puzzles are a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA, MI6, a Masonic conspiracy or a cyber mercenary group. Others have claimed Cicada 3301 is an alternate reality game. However, no company or individual has taken credit for it or attempted to monetize it.

How did it appear?

Cicada 301 made its first public appearance through a popular yet debated forum website, threw a puzzle to the audience and inviting them to solve it. The puzzle was to explore and decode a hidden message under an image. This puzzle led the users of the forum to a book, named Encryption Communication systems. In this method to decode the puzzle, the emissary and the receptor have to use the same edition of the book. Calling the designated number once can listen to a mysterious voice, instructing them through the subsequent needful steps. Once the puzzle solvers tried to get to the website that the mysterious voice instructed, they would come along a phrase with the image of the Cicada, lying next to it. In the course of the attempt to solve the puzzle, one would come across a countdown that will direct to find the symbol, closest to the person, trying to solve the puzzle. After decoding the puzzle, users would come across some White blankets, bearing come QR codes and the image of Cicada 3031. The decoding eventually, leads to the deep web, wherein users will come across various illegal and unethical topics. After running the campaign for a month, the Cicada organization suddenly closed the program, promising to come back with identical programs at the forthcoming time.

In the years 2013 and 2014, Cicada Organization came back again, but, offered different puzzles to the users to solve.  It is a mystery as what happened to the winners of 3 series and what the rewards were awarded to them. A flock of people voiced the idea that the Cicada organization was hired by some Government bodies to accomplish some of the secret plans of the government. Some formed the idea that this is a secret society, sect, or cult. A flock of users conceived the thought that it was actually a real game with strange gameplay. It is a profound mystery as to why the winners of the series never publicized their fate to the public. In the deep web of the organization, there were instructions for getting access to some specific email addresses. The objective and the outcome of the game was wrapped in mystery and even the winners didn’t have the clue that they actually solved the puzzle. The overall objective of the organization was to ensure the freedom of Information and enhance security and privacy in the Digital Era.

Authorities from the Los Andes Province of Chile claim that Cicada 3301 is a hacker group and engaged in illegal activities. Cicada 3301 responded to this claim by issuing a PGP-signed statement denying any involvement in illegal activity.

In July 2015, a group, calling themselves 3301, claimed to have hacked planned parenthood; however, the group appears to have no connection to Cicada 3301. Cicada 3301 later issued a PGP-signed statement stated "they are not associated with this group in any way" and also stated, "Cicada 3301 does not condone their use of our name, number, or symbolism". The hacker group later confirmed that they are not affiliated with Cicada 3301.

Methods of Cicada 3301

The Cicada 3301 puzzles have spanned many different communication media including internet, telephone, original music, bootable Linux CDs, digital images, physical paper signs, and pages of unpublished cryptic books. In addition to using many varying techniques to encrypt, encode, or hide data, these also have referenced a wide variety of books, poetry, artwork, and music. Each clue has been signed by the same GnuPG private key to confirm authenticity.

The most recent activity of Cicada 3301

An unconfirmed tweet sent on January 5 has apparently signaled the return of Cicada 3301 in 2016, although fake 3301 puzzles have circulated in the past. The account tweeted a link to an image with the caption - “Liber Primus (a book of encrypted runes) is the way. Its words are the map, their meaning is the road, and their numbers are the direction.”

Many believe that the key to solving the puzzle is deciphering the Liber Primus although other players have cited it as a source of frustration.

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