Cicada 3301 is perhaps the most mysterious seemingly Internet-based organisation in the history of online mysteries. Since 2012, the group has posted numerous puzzles online under that name and has made no reference as to what it does or even where it is from. No one knows who runs it, assuming it really is an organisation, or even the name of a single member. Cicada 3301 is able to keep its reputation with so little information strictly because of the interesting scavenger hunt of sorts it has released for three years running.
It all started on January 5, 2012 when a 4chan user posted a steganography clue on the “random” board. The image stated that Cicada 3301 was looking for “intelligent” people. In fact, the word used was “recruiting.” For what, no one has said and Cicada 3301 is certainly keeping it a secret. The image hid a clue that takes some level of specialised knowledge to find. It involved a Caesar cipher, which is pretty standard crypto, but the rest took at least some technical knowledge.
In white text on a black background, the posted message read: “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.
From there, and in future puzzles, clues varied greatly in skill-set necessary for solving and even location. Some of the clues were in physical locations, making it necessary for people who could not reach the clues to use posts on the Internet to get further in the hunt. Moreover, some of the references in the clues are pop culture, literature and other non-tech topics.
Some have touted the Cicada 3301 puzzles as unsolvable. This is not true. Several have solved the hunt and have allegedly received emails from the organisation. Still, no one has come forward and stated what they were recruited to do, if anything. Judging by the puzzles, it is possible that Cicada 3301 is simply a cyber group like Anonymous. Of course, there is also the possibility that it is really MI6, the CIA or a similar organisation. Information security, cryptography and a number of other skills necessary to crack the puzzles offered by Cicada would be helpful to virtually any large organisation, which makes it hard to discover who is behind it. In fact, this would not be the first time an organisation used such tactics to recruit new members.
We have to assume that Cicada succeeded on that front, as it stated that it found the people it needed after the first puzzle. It began all over again on January 5, 2013 and again on January 5, 2014, so it must be an ongoing recruitment effort.
At this juncture, it is impossible to tell when these recruitment efforts from Cicada 3301 will stop, but that is not stopping people from looking forward to the next year’s puzzles. It may not be a very public honor, but it must be satisfying to know you have reached the end of one of the most famous puzzles in Internet history.