Cicada 3301: More than a Game | Teen Ink

Cicada 3301: More than a Game

March 13, 2019
By mk805 SILVER, Tirana, Other
mk805 SILVER, Tirana, Other
8 articles 0 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
"I was saying and doing things that made no sense. All because I was too scared to drop my image." -Etika

When you hear the word “puzzle,” what do you think of? Do you think of a jigsaw puzzle or things of the like? Or do you think of a Sphinx, giving people puzzles in order for them to pass through? I think of a scavenger hunt, led by someone leaving clues and giving the winners a prize. I am, of course, talking about Cicada 3301. This was a great puzzle and it was the future of cryptography and steganography, due to its complexity and appearance in the real world.             

For those who don’t know what Cicada 3301 was/is, it started as an image posted on 4chan’s /b/ board, or random board. It encouraged 4channers to find a message that the original poster hid in the image. Soon after it was posted, someone found that by opening the image with a text editor, there was a string of readable text found: “TIBERIVS CLAVDIVS CAESAR says,” and followed it with a link encrypted with the Caesar cipher, as shown by the introduction. Once decrypted, users were taken to an image of a decoy duck, with the message next to it: “Woops, just decoys this way. Looks like you can’t guess how to get the image out” (Wångstedt 2018). This image looked like it was a dead end, but users noticed that by using a program known as OutGuess and plugging in the image, users would get a message that took them to a Reddit forum entirely in code. Once the posts were decoded, they contained an image. The image contained a message, and the message led to a book, accompanied by a code. As David Wångstedt put it in his video “Cicada 3301: an Internet Mystery,” “The code was used to uncover a phone number hidden within the book, that played a prerecorded message” (Wångstedt 2018). The message congratulated the ones to make it to this step, and told them that there were three prime numbers associated with the first image posted. 3301 was one of them. The users would have to multiply all three of said numbers and use the product as a web address. After some more digging, it was discovered that the two other prime numbers the message informed them about were 509 and 503, the dimensions of the image. These numbers multiplied by 3301 led to 845145127. Using this number as a web address( users were taken to a page with a countdown next to a picture of a cicada. Once the countdown reached 0, the page changed to display a list of coordinates, along with the text: “Find our symbol at the location nearest you.” At those specific coordinates, people found sheets of paper with QR codes on them taped to various things, like poles and bus stations. The first 20 or so people to scan these QR codes and access the webpage associated with it were accepted. According to David Wångstedt, the site closed down with the message: “We want the best, not the followers” (Wångstedt 2018). Now, as much as I’d like to get into the Second Puzzle and the ongoing Third Puzzle, my essay has almost reached the word limit.

Cicada was a revolutionary event in cryptography due to its complexity and its crossover into the physical world. Many people likened Cicada to an ARG, or alternate reality game. These are normally done by big companies to promote movies or video games, such as Microsoft’s ARG back in 2001 to promote the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This was also a pretty big ARG about AI murders (Rowe 2017). To be honest, who could blame them? Cicada did seem like an ARG at face value. It started as an online campaign and eventually crossed over to the real world. One of the people that knows this more than anyone is Nox Populi, one of the alleged winners of the Second Puzzle. However, Cicada was much more than a game. It was actually a campaign organized by a group that was looking for recruits. Funnily enough, this was one of the first theories on the site: that Cicada was the work of an international collective. Cicada was a group focused on protecting Internet privacy and data privacy. Therefore, they were looking for intelligent individuals who they could trust.

I can already hear people coming up with counter-arguments, and I’m not even done yet. I know that Cicada wasn’t a well-known event and it happened so long ago, and to that I completely agree. However, many mysteries about Cicada have still gone unanswered. The mystery of Cicada has blown up once again due to David Wångstedt, a.k.a. LEMMiNO’s video published on May 19th, 2018. In the video, he goes in-depth into all three puzzles, even the ongoing Third Puzzle. His video really interested me and I wanted to do further research.

In conclusion, I believe that Cicada was one of the most revolutionary things to happen in the history of cryptography, due to its complexity and its crossover into the real world. It was not organized by a corporation to promote anything, but it still got people racing across the globe to discover its mysteries. I hope that you will now think of something like this when you next hear the word “puzzle.”

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This article has 1 comment.

Mateo1514 GOLD said...
on Mar. 19 2019 at 5:36 am
Mateo1514 GOLD, Asuncion, Other
10 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Do as you please, learn how you want, but always write with your heart." (Mateo Conde)

Amazing essay! Keep writing because you have a lot of talent.

Congrats, mate