A giant puzzle — What’s it for?

An AMAZING piece with twists and turns, dedicated individuals, secret networks and we are still left with a tantalizing mystery at the end.

The internet mystery that has the world baffled

For the past two years, a mysterious online organisation has been setting the world’s finest code-breakers a series of seemingly unsolveable problems. But to what end? Welcome to the world of Cicada 3301.
One evening in January last year, Joel Eriksson, a 34-year-old computer analyst from Uppsala in Sweden, was trawling the web, looking for distraction, when he came across a message on an internet forum. The message was in stark white type, against a black background.

“Hello,” it said. “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.”

The message was signed: “3301”.

A self-confessed IT security “freak” and a skilled cryptographer, Eriksson’s interest was immediately piqued. This was – he knew – an example of digital steganography: the concealment of secret information within a digital file.

What follows is the story of just one person’s obsession with solving a puzzle that was huge, complex and amazing.

Was this a PR stunt? A game? A recruitment technique for the CIA or some other secret organization? The term Cicada 3301 refers to those who are constructing this Internet puzzle. They have denied that there is anything illegal going on. But the underlying people and purpose remain a mystery.

At the end of the road this happened:

After a designated number of solvers visited the address, the website shut down with a terse message: “We want the best, not the followers.” The chosen few received personal emails – detailing what, none have said, although one solver heard they were now being asked to solve puzzles in private. Eriksson, however, was not among them. “It was my biggest anticlimax – when I was too late to register my email at the TOR hidden service,” he says. “If my sleep-wake cycle had been different, I believe I would have been among the first.” Regardless, a few weeks later, a new message from Cicada was posted on Reddit. It read: “Hello. We have now found the individuals we sought. Thus our month-long journey ends. For now.” All too abruptly for thousands of intrigued solvers, it had gone quiet.

But, this past January, something new appeared. Weird. Take a look at this piece, it’s fascinating reading.

More is here on the wiki.

Please post additional info you find on this. Fascinating stuff.


Tip: Gary Rosen

  7 comments for “A giant puzzle — What’s it for?

  1. Andrew
    November 26, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    That picture looks like a stylized map of the world. Kind of. Probably a red herring though.

  2. Sawdust Sam
    November 26, 2013 at 4:20 PM

    More like a moth than a red herring.

  3. November 26, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    The text-only screenshot (how nostalgic for us old folks – the Telegraph article shows it as a monochrome green-screen monitor) looks to me (literally, and perhaps figuratively as well) like a Rorschach test.

    I recall that Google had employment ads with various puzzles, but Google wasn’t hiding itself.

    Whoever this is, it appears they’re now getting some high-end cryptography “puzzle” solving work done for free. “More than that I cannot add.”

  4. November 26, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    Reminds me of early interweb stuff that was nothing but a wind up. No real puzzle or real solution, just something to do peoples’ heads in.

  5. george seifert
    November 26, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    Looks more like Gizmo (from Gremlins) to me.

  6. November 26, 2013 at 8:03 PM

    Are we talking Gremlins 3? That would be awesome!

  7. John
    November 26, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    Clearly a batman logo. Did I win some internet cred?

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