Cicada 3301: An Internet Mystery
On January 4, 2012, an anonymous user posted an image that contained a cryptographic puzzle. He challenged users to uncover the message that he had hidden within the image and set into motion one of the most elaborate scavenger hunts in the history of the Internet.
Within minutes someone discovered that if the file was opened using a text editor, one could find an appended string of readable text. That string contained a link to another image that appeared to be a dead end. However, another application allowed users to extract information embedded within the first image. That information led to a subreddit that contained information about a book, which, along with a code, could be used to uncover a phone number. That phone number played a prerecorded message that gave further indications regarding the following step for solving the puzzle.
Within 24 hours the initial image had been reposted all over the Internet and a large group of experts joined the quest to uncover the mysteries hidden in the puzzle. No one was really sure what to make of it and what would happen when one reached the end. It wasn’t long before conspiracy theories appeared and some sustained that this was a secret society’s strategy for recruiting new members who were proficient in cryptography and other related fields.
After a month another image was posted indicating that they had found the highly intelligent individuals that they had been looking for. There was no explanation as to what the puzzle was for, what happened when you reached the end, and who was behind it. This led many to believe that it was just an elaborate wild-goose chase designed to waste everybody’s time.
However a year later a second puzzle appeared. Users were able to match the authentic PGP signature that guaranteed that it was coming from Cicada. This puzzle was very similar to the first one and in the end a second select group of first arrivals were accepted into the final private stage of the puzzle. This second puzzle did not conclude with an official message from Cicada like the first one.
In 2014 it was time for a third puzzle. Then after that one, no other puzzles appeared as the years went by. Who was behind all this? What was the end reward of completing the puzzles? Find out more now.