Cicada 3301


internet puzzle
Cicada 3301 logo

Cicada 3301 is a nickname given to an organization that on three occasions has posted a set of puzzles to recruit codebreakers/linguists from the public.[1] 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.[2][3] The stated intent was to recruit "intelligent individuals" by presenting a series of puzzles which were to be solved. No new puzzles were published on January 4, 2015. However, a new clue was posted on Twitter on January 5, 2016.[4][5] In April 2017 a verified PGP-signed message was found: Beware false paths. Always verify PGP signature from 7A35090F.[6] That message explicitly denies the validity of any unsigned puzzle, as recently as April 2017.

The puzzles focused heavily on data security, cryptography, and steganography.[1][7][8][9][10]

It has been called "the most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age"[11] and is listed as one of the "top 5 eeriest, unsolved mysteries of the internet",[12] and much speculation exists as to its function. Many have speculated that the puzzles are a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA, MI6, a "Masonic conspiracy"[13] or a cyber mercenary group.[1][8] Others have claimed Cicada 3301 is an alternate reality game. No company or individual has taken credit for it or attempted to monetize it, however.[11]


The stated purpose of the puzzles each year has been to recruit "highly intelligent individuals", though the ultimate purpose remains unknown.[1] Some[14] have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a secret society with the goal of improving cryptography, privacy and anonymity.[15] Others[16] have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a cult or religion. According to statements of several people, who claimed to have won the 2012 puzzle, 3301 typically uses non-puzzle-based recruiting methods, but created the Cicada puzzles because they were looking for potential members with cryptography and computer security skills.[14]


Unidentified 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.[8][9][17] The first puzzle, of 2012, is claimed to have been solved by Marcus Wanner.[14] According to Marcus Wanner, those who solved the puzzles were asked questions about their support of information freedom, online privacy and freedom, and rejection of censorship. Those who answered satisfactorily at this 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.[14] He did not finish his work on a method of general decryption, and the website was removed.

Types of clues

Locations of the physical paper signs from the 2012 puzzle

The Cicada 3301 clues 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 written in runes. One book, titled Liber Primus, literally "first book", contains many pages, only some of which have been decrypted. In addition to using many varying techniques to encrypt, encode, or hide data, these clues also have referenced a wide variety of books, poetry, artwork and music.[1] Each clue has been signed by the same GnuPG private key to confirm authenticity.[10][18]

Allegations against the group

Allegations of illegal activity

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.[19][20]

In July 2015, a group calling themselves "3301" claimed to have hacked Planned Parenthood;[21] however, the group appears to have no connection to Cicada 3301.[22] Cicada 3301 later issued a PGP-signed statement stating they "are not associated with this group in any way" and also stated that Cicada 3301 does not "condone their use of our name, number, or symbolism".[23] The hacker group later confirmed that they are not affiliated with Cicada 3301.[24]

Claims of being a cult

As the group has gained notoriety and public attention, many have asserted that the puzzles are an introduction to occult principles, and possibly even recruitment for a cult. Tim Dailey, a senior research fellow with the conservative Christian Family Research Council, analyzed the teachings of Cicada 3301, and stated, "The enigmatic Cicada 3301 appears to be drawing participants inexorably into the dark web of the occult a la Blavatsky and Crowley. At the heart of the enchantment is the counterfeit promise of ultimate meaning through self-divination."[16][25]

Others have claimed that the Cicada 3301 puzzles are a modern and technological equivalent to the enlightenment journey within Western esotericism and Mystery schools.[25]

In popular culture

The United States Navy released a cryptographic challenge based on the Cicada 3301 recruitment puzzles in 2014 calling it Project Architeuthis.[26][27]

The plot of "Nautilus", the September 30, 2014 episode of the TV show Person of Interest, featured a large-scale game very similar to the Cicada 3301 puzzles. Both feature a series of worldwide cryptographic puzzles, but as the title implies, these feature the image of a nautilus shell instead of a cicada logo.[28]Person of Interest creator Jonathan Nolan and producer Greg Plageman stated in an interview that Cicada 3301 was the inspiration for the episode: "Episode 2, I'm particularly fascinated by the subject underneath it. Look up Cicada 3301 on the internet. It's a very interesting concept out there that we then put into a larger story that connects to our show."[29] The game is eventually revealed to have been created by the Samaritan, a malicious artificial intelligence that serves as the main antagonist of the show's fourth season, as a means of recruiting operatives.

In the game "The Last DeadEnd" one of the locations features a Cicada 3301 symbol and near this symbol the music from one of their puzzles plays.


Twice there was music accompanying the Cicada clues. However, none of these pieces are part of the standard repertoire and neither the composers nor performers have been identified. Certain patterns have emerged that indicate that the music itself may be a clue and that Cicada is attempting to establish a musical cryptogram in parallel with its other embedded information. TechGeek365 analyzed the structure of a number of the pieces and discovered that there are certain dyads (two notes sounding simultaneously) which, when corresponded with letters and numbers, reveal hidden messages.[30][31]

Artists Rick Steff and Roy Berry of the band Lucero included a Cicada 3301-inspired song on their side-project album Superfluidity. The music video, directed by Charlie Fasano, featured artwork taken from the Liber Primus book by Cicada 3301.[32]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e "The internet mystery that has the world baffled". Daily Telegraph. 25 November 2013. Archived from the original on 25 November 2013. Retrieved 25 November cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  2. ^ Bell, Chris. "Cicada 3301 update: the baffling internet mystery is back". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on April 12, 2018. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  3. ^ Hern, Alex (January 10, 2014). "Cicada 3301: I tried the hardest puzzle on the internet and failed spectacularly". The Guardian. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016.
  4. ^ Puzzle Image, archived from the original on 2016-01-16, retrieved 2016-05-14
  5. ^ 3301, Cicada. "Cicada 3301's new puzzle (Dead Image)". Archived from the original on May 7, 2016.
  6. ^ Threat Stack. "Cicadas & Security, Part 2: When a Verified PGP Key Takes You on a Trip to the Desert".
  7. ^ "Is mystery internet challenge a recruiting tool for the CIA?". Channel 4 News. 27 November 2013. Archived from the original on 28 August 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  8. ^ a b c Lipinski, Jed. "Chasing the Cicada: Exploring the Darkest Corridors of the Internet". Mental_Floss. Archived from the original on 20 September 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  9. ^ a b Ernst, Douglas (November 26, 2013). "Secret society seeks world's brightest: Recruits navigate 'darknet' filled with terrorism, drugs". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  10. ^ a b Bell, Chris (7 January 2014). "Cicada 3301 update: the baffling internet mystery is back". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  11. ^ a b Scott, Sam (16 December 2013). "Cicada 3301: The most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age". Metro. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  12. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (21 May 2014). "Five of the Internet's eeriest, unsolved mysteries". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  13. ^ Vincent, James (7 January 2014). "Masonic conspiracy or MI6 recruitment tool? Internet mystery Cicada 3301 starts up again". The Independent. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d Kushner, David (29 January 2015). "Cicada: Solving the Web's Deepest Mystery" (1227). Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  15. ^ Tucker, Daniel (30 December 2013). "Meet the Teenage Codebreaker Who Helped Solve the Cicada 3301 Internet Puzzle". NPR/WNYC New Tech City. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  16. ^ a b Dailey, Timothy (2015-07-07). The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings. Chosen Books. pp. 145–161. ISBN 978-0800797768.
  17. ^ Staff, NPR (5 January 2014). "The Internet's Cicada: A Mystery Without An Answer". All Things Considered, National Public Radio. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  18. ^ Mihai, Andrei (April 28, 2014). "Cicada 3301: A puzzle for the brightest minds, posted by an unknown, mysterious organization". ZME Science. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  19. ^ Andes Online. "PDI advierte sobre nueva modalidad de estafa por internet a través de google". Andes Online.
  20. ^ Pastebin. "PGP signed Cicada message".
  21. ^ Oh, Inae. "Anti-Abortion Hackers Claim to Have Stolen Data That Could Take Down Planned Parenthood". Mother Jones. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  22. ^ Turton, William. "Anti-abortion hackers attack Planned Parenthood, release databases, employee data". Daily Dot. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  23. ^ 3301, Cicada. "Public Statement".
  24. ^ Hacker Group. "Public Statement".
  25. ^ a b Ross, Benjamin (2015-05-05). Millennial Mysticism (1 ed.). pp. 115–121. ISBN 978-1512043051.
  26. ^ McEvoy, Maria (30 April 2014). "US Navy attempting to recruit cryptologists through Facebook game". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  27. ^ Stanely, T.L. "The U.S. Navy Wants You – To Solve This Puzzle". Mashable. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  28. ^ Planje, Alexa (1 October 2014). "Review: Person Of Interest: "Nautilus"". A.V. Club. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  29. ^ Roffman, Marisa. "PERSON OF INTEREST Season 4: Greg Plageman and Jonathan Nolan Tease a Cold War, the Loss of Sanctuary, and More". Give Me My Remote. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  30. ^ "Coded Music In Cicada 3301? - TechGeek365". TechGeek365. 2016-12-10. Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  31. ^ "Yes, It's Another Bit Of Cicada Cryptomusic! - TechGeek365". TechGeek365. 2017-01-12. Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  32. ^ McCoy, Chris. "Music Video Monday: Rick & Roy". Memphis Flyer. Contemporary Media. Retrieved 7 December 2015.

External links


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