Cicada 3301: the hardest puzzle of the internet lead players to dark website mysteriously

Cicada 3301 is the hardest puzzle right now on the internet, that appeared first in January 2012 with its pictures posted on 4Chan which is a simple image-based bulletin board for sharing images anonymously.

The first image appeared with a text combined with it saying, “Hello. We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck,” and in the end, it was signed by “3301.”

Cicada 3301 consists of a series of puzzles that get harder each time it is being solved. The more it was being attempted to solve people got more into a rabbit hole. The references to solve the puzzle were also getting obscure. However, some of the puzzle solvers broke the code by cooperating in the chatrooms. The final puzzle directed the gamers to move into a Tor website which is currently known as the Silk Road black market. The winner could see the page with a statement, “We want the best, not the followers.” Gamers who tried to remain “followers” as stated by the game were over for them.

Solving the puzzles can become really tricky. The text which can be seen attached to the image on 4Chan can be split into three parts. The third part is only a signature that proves the existence of Cicada.

The first part of the puzzle reads a poem: “The work of a private man/ who wished to transcend,/ He trusted himself, / to produce from within,” followed by a series of numbers separated by colons: “1:2:3:1/3:3:13:5/45:5:2:3,” and so on, capped by the word .onion. According to code breakers, the last bit provides the solution to the puzzle that provides a URL to another website on Tor.

The numbers separated by colons gives a clue that the code involves a book. As the code breakers say the format found in Cicada is similar to the relatively well-known format used for a book as a key to code. The first digit is the paragraph and the second is the sentence, the third is the word, and the fourth is the letter. Now, we need to search the book that is being referred to each time. The name of the book can be devised by the poem.

Code breakers report that the Cicada comes from an email usually leaked by the winner of the 2012 challenge. However, the verification is tough since they remove the signature to obscure identity. The email contains a message saying, “You have all wondered who we are and so we shall now tell you. We are an international group. We have no name. We have no symbol. We have no membership rosters. We do not have a public website and we do not advertise ourselves. We are a group of individuals who have proven ourselves, much like you have, by completing this recruitment contest, and we are drawn together by common beliefs. A careful reading of the texts used in the contest would have revealed some of these beliefs: that tyranny and oppression of any kind must end, that censorship is wrong and that privacy is an inalienable right.”

The whole point of the Cicada is to create an alternate reality game inviting players to it. Cyber security researchers are still looking for the people behind this inviting puzzle. They said that Cicada could be developed by more than one person with a lot of resources. The cybersecurity officials also said there are incidents where the Cicada winners were paid to remain silent. The game gets suspicious when it leads to a dark website in the end with more puzzles and a community of players chatting about a hefty amount of data to solve it in the Cicada chatroom.

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