Saturday, 3 May 2014

Cicada 3301 : Internet's Secret Organization


On January 2012 a mysterious image were posted on 4Chan. The mysterious image contained a message in white text on a black background saying:

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

That message led to a series of complex and interconnected puzzles,each harder than the last. Thousands of people took on the challenge, which sparked a global internet mystery that has yet to be answered to this day. Cloaked in extreme secrecy, some say Cicada 3301 is viral marketing or a practical joke, or perhaps a recruitment program for the CIA

2012: Decoding Cicada 3301's Puzzles

1) The first clue in the puzzle was retrieve by opening the image file in a text-editing application, which revealed the following message encoded as a Caeser Cipher:
TIBERIVS CLAVDIVS CAESAR says “lxxt>33m2mqkyv2gsq3q=w]O2ntk”

2) The text revealed a URL address to an image of a wooden duck accompanied by another cryptic message, which vaguely suggested the use of OutGuess, a steganography application used to hide and find messages within image files. One processed through the program, the file unlocked a link to /r/a2e7j6ic78h0j, a mysterious Reddit community populated with two additional images and a series of text posts encrypted in codes.

After being processed through OutGuess, the two images revealed the following messages:
“From here on out, we will cryptographically sign all messages with this key. It is available on the mit keyservers. Key ID 7A35090F, as posted in a2e7j6ic78h0j. Patience is a virtue.”
The key has always been right in front of your eyes. This isn’t the quest for the Holy Grail. Stop making it more difficult than it is. Good luck. 3301

Using the numeric sequence displayed in the header section of /r/a2e7j6ic78h0j as the “key” (10, 2, 14, 7, 19, 6, 18, 12, 7, 8, 17, 0, 19, 7, 14, 18, 14, 19, 13, 0, 1, 2, 0), each letter in the ciphers were then shifted by the number corresponding to its location in the text. The shifting method revealed the text of Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain, one of the three tales associated with the Middle Welsh proses known as the Mabinogion.

3) The text could be then decoded using the book code, a type of cipher in which the first number is the line and the second number is the character in that line. The deciphered message read:
Call us at us telephone numBer two one four three nine oh nine six oh eight

Upon dialling this phone number (214 – 390 – 9608), a pre-recorded message was played:

Very good. You have done well. There are three prime numbers associated with the original final.jpg image. 3301 is one of them. You will have to find the other two. Multiply all three of these numbers together and add a .com to find the next step. Good luck. Goodbye.

4) After multiplying the 3301 with the width and height of the original image (509 pixels by 503 pixels), both of which are prime numbers, the sum revealed the following domain:
You have done well to come this far. Patience is a virtue. Check back at 17:00 on Monday, 9 January 2012 UTC. 3301

5) Upon running the same image through OutGuess for the second time, a new message was produced with a series of GPS co-ordinates in addition to the two sets already provided on the website (shown below). The co-ordinates for location in USA, Europe and Asia.

At each of these locations, Hunters found a poster stuck to a telegraph pole, with a QR code and an image of a cicada. It took a while for this to sink in with the community, that this wasn't just a talented neckbeard in a basement, that this was actually a global organisation of some very very talented people.

6) One month after it began, 3301 announces it has found who it was looking for. It issues a statement denying that 3301 is a hacker group. It is unknown who, if anyone completed the test or what happened to them.

On January 2013, a new image was posted onto 4Chan message board saying:
"Hello again. Our search for intelligent individuals now continues,"
It all started over again; the puzzles appeared with different techniques and new physical location. It again led to a website on the DeepWeb. This time the task are harder and included with a coded musical track

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