Cicada 3301


Cicada 3301 logo

Cicada 3301 is a name given to an enigmatic organization that on six occasions has posted a set of complex puzzles and alternate reality games to possibly recruit codebreakers 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, each in order, to find the next. No new puzzles were published on January 4, 2015. However, a new puzzle was posted on Twitter on January 5, 2016.[4][5]

The puzzles focused heavily on data security, cryptography, and steganography.[1][6][7][8][9]

It has been called "the most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age"[10] and is listed as one of the "top 5 eeriest, unsolved mysteries of the internet" by The Washington Post,[11] and much speculation exists as to its purpose. Many have speculated that the puzzles are a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA, MI6, or a cyber mercenary group.[1][7] Others have claimed Cicada 3301 is an alternate reality game, but the fact that no company or individual has taken credit or tried to monetize it, combined with the fact that no known individuals that solved the puzzles have ever come forward, has led most to feel that it is not.[10] Others have claimed it is run by a bank working on cryptocurrency.[10]


The stated purpose of the puzzles each year has been to recruit "highly intelligent individuals", though the ultimate purpose remains unknown.[1] Some[12] have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a secret society with the goal of improving cryptography, privacy and anonymity.[13] Others[14] have claimed that Cicada 3301 is a cult or religion. According to statements made to winners of 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.[12]


The ultimate outcome of all three rounds of Cicada 3301 recruiting is still a mystery. The final known puzzles became both highly complex and individualized as the game unfolded. Anonymous individuals have claimed to have "won", but verification from the organization was never made and the individuals making the claim have not been forthcoming with information.[7][8][15] According to one person who completed the 2012 puzzle, 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.[12]

Types of clues

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. 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.[9][16]

Among others these reference works include:

Physical locations of clues

Throughout the testing, multiple clues have required participants to travel to various places to retrieve the next clue. These clue locations have included the following cities:

Speculation that the Cicada 3301 organization is large and well-funded is supported by the existence of clues in a large number of locations, all quite distant from one another, appearing at the same time.[7][8]

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.[17][18]

In July 2015, a group calling themselves "3301" claimed to have hacked Planned Parenthood;[19] however, the group appears to have no connection to Cicada 3301.[20] 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".[21] The hacker group later confirmed that they are not affiliated with Cicada 3301.[22]

Uses In music

There is almost always music accompanying the Cicada video clues. None of these pieces are part of the standard repertoire and neither the composers nor performers are identified. Certain patterns have emerged that indicate that the music itself may be a clue and Cicada is attempting to establish a musical cryptogram in parallel with its other embedded information. .[23]

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. Dr. 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."[14][24]

Dailey analyzed the puzzles and the Cicada 3301's book Liber Primus and summarized some of the groups' core beliefs:[14]

Others have claimed that the Cicada 3301 puzzles are a modern and technological equivalent to the enlightenment journey within Western esotericism and Mystery schools.[24]

In popular culture

The United States Navy released a cryptographic challenge based on the Cicada 3301 recruitment puzzles in 2014 calling it Project Architeuthis.[25][26]

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.[27]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."[28] The game is eventually revealed to have been created by Samaritan, a malicious artificial intelligence that serves as the main antagonist of the show's fourth season, as a means of recruiting operatives.

"Just a Regular Irregular", the November 13, 2014, episode of the TV show Elementary, featured a "math hunt", specifically mentioning its similarity to the Cicada 3301 puzzles multiple times.[29]

The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May, the postmodernist novel by House of Leaves author Mark Z. Danielewski references Cicada 3301.[30]

Artists Rick Steff and Roy Berry of the band Lucero included a Cicada 3301-inspired song on their side-project album Superfluidity. The video, directed by Charlie Fasano, featured artwork taken from the Liber Primus book by Cicada 3301.[31]

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 2013. 
  2. ^ Bell, Chris. "Cicada 3301 update: the baffling internet mystery is back". Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. 
  3. ^ Hern, Alex. "Cicada 3301: I tried the hardest puzzle on the internet and failed spectacularly". The Guardian. Archived from the original on January 11, 2014. 
  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. ^ "Is mystery internet challenge a recruiting tool for the CIA?". Channel 4 News. 27 November 2013. Archived from the original on 27 November 2013. Retrieved 27 November 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d Lipinski, Jed. "Chasing the Cicada: Exploring the Darkest Corridors of the Internet". Mental_Floss. Archived from the original on 25 November 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c 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 December 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Bell, Chris (7 January 2014). "Cicada 3301 update: the baffling internet mystery is back". The Telegraph. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c Scott, Sam (16 December 2013). "Cicada 3301: The most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age". Metro. Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  11. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (21 May 2014). "Five of the Internet's eeriest, unsolved mysteries". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c Kushner, David (29 January 2015). "Cicada: Solving the Web's Deepest Mystery" (1227). Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 June 2015. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b c Dailey, Timothy. The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings. Chosen Books. pp. 145–161. ISBN 0800797760. 
  15. ^ Staff, NPR (5 January 2014). "The Internet's Cicada: A Mystery Without An Answer". All Things Considered, National Public Radio. Retrieved 13 May 2014. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ Andes Online. "PDI advierte sobre nueva modalidad de estafa por internet a través de google". Andes Online. 
  18. ^ Pastebin. "PGP signed Cicada message". 
  19. ^ Oh, Inae. "Anti-Abortion Hackers Claim to Have Stolen Data That Could Take Down Planned Parenthood". Mother Jones. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  20. ^ Turton, William. "Anti-abortion hackers attack Planned Parenthood, release databases, employee data". Daily Dot. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  21. ^ 3301, Cicada. "Public Statement". 
  22. ^ Hacker Group. "Public Statement". 
  23. ^ Osman, Bashir. "Coded Music In Cicada 3301?". Tech Geek 365. Retrieved 31 March 2017. 
  24. ^ a b Ross, Benjamin. Millennial Mysticism (1 ed.). pp. 115–121. ISBN 1512043052. 
  25. ^ McEvoy, Maria (30 April 2014). "US Navy attempting to recruit cryptologists through Facebook game". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  26. ^ Stanely, T.L. "The U.S. Navy Wants You – To Solve This Puzzle". Mashable. Retrieved 1 May 2014. 
  27. ^ Planje, Alexa (1 October 2014). "Review: Person Of Interest: "Nautilus"". A.V. Club. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ "Shout Out: Elementary". TV Tropes. 
  30. ^ Danielewski, Mark (May 12, 2015). The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May (1st ed.). Pantheon Books. p. 647. ISBN 978-0375714948. 
  31. ^ McCoy, Chris. "Music Video Monday: Rick & Roy". Memphis Flyer. Contemporary Media. Retrieved 7 December 2015. 

External links


" />