On the 4th of January, 2012,
a user on 4chan posted this image
to the site’s infamous /b/ or random board.
到该网站的臭名昭着/ b /或随机董事会
The anonymous author, who went by the four-digit pseudonym 3301,
challenged users to uncover
a message hidden within the image.
Unbeknownst to those who stumbled across it,
someone had just set in motion one of the
most elaborate scavenger hunts the internet has ever seen.
Within minutes of the image being
posted someone discovered that by opening the file using
a text editor an appended string of readable text could be found.
The string contained a cipher that, once deciphered,
formed a link to yet another image.
At first this appeared to be a dead
end but using an application known as OutGuess
users were able to extract hidden information embedded within the first image.
The extracted information lead to a subreddit which
in turn contained information about a book.
The book along
with a code could then be used to uncover a
phone number that, when called, played this prerecorded message.
电话号码 当被呼叫时 播放此预先录制的消息
By the following day,
the initial image had been reposed all over the internet.
A growing community
of armchair detectives sought to unravel this elaborate puzzle but
no one was quite sure what to make off it.
What was the puzzle for?
Who was behind it?
What happens when you reach the end?
Some naturally dismissed it as an elaborate joke
while others perceived its complexity
as evidence against it being the work of a mere troll.
Before long, rumors began to circulate
that this could be the work of some secret society
or intelligence agency with the intent of recruiting individuals proficient in cryptography,
steganography, and other related fields.
Of course, it was nothing but a rumor.
The two missing numbers mentioned
in the recording proved to be the dimensions of the original image.
After multiplying the width and height
with 3301 and using the product as a web address,
users were taken to a website.
The website consisted of a countdown as well as an image of a cicada.
When the countdown reached zero,
the page was updated with a list of coordinates.
The coordinates pointed to locations around the globe.
14 locations in 5 different countries.
It was now up to participants living
near the specified coordinates to rise from their
comfortable armchairs and venture outside.
Those who believed Cicada to be the work
of an organization now felt their beliefs had been justified.
In their opinion,
only some international collective possessed the means and resources
to create a scavenger hunt of this magnitude.
This was not the work of your average troll. No,
this had to be something else.
At each location was a poster with the cicada symbol and a QR code.
…on the bike shelter over here.
See I got it… I got it right there.
You can see the corners, I just kinda ripped it off.
The codes linked to an image,
the image contained a riddle, the riddle lead to a book,
and the book lead to a website.
But here, the puzzle took an unexpected turn.
Only a select group
of first arrivals to this website were accepted into the final stage of the puzzle.
The site eventually closed down with the message:
“We want the best, not the followers.”
“我们想要最好的 而不是追随者 ”
The finalists were also warned not to collaborate
with others nor to share the details of this
private stage of the puzzle. Well,
given that we know this,
it’s safe to say that not everyone heeded that warning.
But those who did presumably advanced
through the final stages before reaching the very
end of the puzzle.
After nearly a month
of silence an image appeared on the subreddit announcing the conclusion
of the puzzle and, just like that, the hunt was over.
Cicada had supposedly found the”highly intelligent individuals” they were looking for
and whatever happened to them is a bit
of a mystery but more on that in a moment.
The lack of an explanation was perceived by many
as confirmation that the puzzle had been
nothing but a wild-goose chase intent on wasting everyones time.
After all, questions raised by the original image remained unanswered.
What was the puzzle for?
Who was behind it?
What happens when you reach the end? However,
as it later turned out, this was only the beginning.
但是 后来证明 这只是一个开始
Whomever was behind this intricate game
had the foresight to include an authentication
code known as a PGP signature along with every clue.
This allowed users to verify
that an image or message was actually from Cicada as opposed
to some impostor seeking to derail or hijack the puzzle.
Cicada had repeatedly warned of such”false paths” and insisted that any message lacking
a valid PGP signature should promptly be disregarded.
That’s why this image, posted exactly a year and a day
after the first, provoked such a frenzy.
After a year of lackluster imitations,
this image finally matched the official PGP signature.
Cicada was back and it was time for round two.
The second puzzle was not too dissimilar from the first.
The image enclosed a message,
the message lead to a book, the book produced a link,
即消息 导致一本书 书中产生了一个链接
and gradually the puzzle unfolded.
At one point, a recording titled The Instar Emergence was uncovered.
一个标题为的录音 发现了Instar Emergence
Another clue lead to a cryptic Twitter account which then lead to an image.
The image proved vital to the progression
of the puzzle but the inclusion of this runic
alphabet would remain a mystery for quite some time.
Much like the first puzzle the second swelled
into the physical world when a list coordinates
compelled participants to, once again,
take to the streets in search of enigmatic posters.
This time it was 8 locations in 4 different countries.
But eventually the trail went cold once again.
Another select group of first arrivals had been accepted
into a final private stage of the puzzle.
Unlike the first puzzle the second did not conclude
with an official message from Cicada.
The trail merely went cold and Cicada vanished
once more leaving us no closer to an explanation. However,
this was still not the end.
At the beginning of 2014 it was time for round three.
Once again the image enclosed a message, the message lead to a book,
the book produced a link,
and suffice it to say, it was more of the same. Except,
this time, the puzzle seemed to revolve around a strange book.
一样的除此之外 这个难题似乎在旋转 围着一本奇怪的书
The book was titled Liber Primus,
meaning First Book in Latin, and was evidently written by Cicada.
意思是 拉丁语的第一本书 显然是由蝉写的
The runic alphabet uncovered in 2013 finally made sense
as the book was primarily written in runes.
Even so, the meaning of the translated pages were cryptic at best.
即便如此 翻译页面的含义 最好是神秘的
The book consisted of various philosophical and idealogical
ideas and appeared to be their manifesto.
Many have since compared the strange writings to that of a cult. Nevertheless,
the book also comprised a myriad of clues and codes.
对邪教的 然而 这本书也包括无数
For example, this page advised participants to
seek out a website on the deep web
but the site remains undiscovered.
Another page lead to a website containing yet another recording titled Interconnectedness. However,
a significant portion of the book has yet to be translated.
The runic text on some
of the pages appear to be obfuscated by layers of encryption
that has yet to be decrypted.
Of the 74 pages featuring runes, only 19 have been successfully translated.
As 2015 came and went without the launch
of a new puzzle, many came to suspect the Liber Primus
一个新的谜题 许多人开始怀疑Liber Primus
had to be completed if Cicada was to return.
This was more or less confirmed at the beginning of 2016
when Cicada encouraged a reexamination of the book.
More than four years have now gone by
with minimal progress and near complete silence from Cicada.
Questions raised by the original image have gone ignored.
What is the purpose of these puzzles?
Who’s behind them?
What happens when you reach the end?
When the initial image appeared on 4chan back
in 2012 many assumed Cicada 3301 to be an
alternate reality game designed by a corporation to promote a new service or product.
For example, Microsoft developed an
elaborate ARG back in 2001 to promote the film
Artificial Intelligence and a similar viral marketing campaign
was used to promote the release of Halo 2.
But the release
of subsequent puzzles and the complete lack of commercialization
has more or less eliminated that possibility.
If we choose to believe some
of the leaked information from the private end-stage of
each puzzle than we do gain some insight into who this group might be.
For example, at the end of the first puzzle,
finalists supposedly received this email.
In it, Cicada describe themselves
as an international group who believe that privacy is an inalienable right.
The aim of each puzzle is to recruit like-minded individuals
in an effort to develop privacy-conscious solutions.
The email then concludes with three questions.
The PGP signature, which would have confirmed the authenticity
of the email, was conveniently
removed by the leaker.
If a version with a valid signature does
exists online I was unable to find it.
But regardless of it’s legitimacy, I find this question a bit odd.
但不管它的合法性如何 我发现 这个问题有点奇怪
It reads:”Do you believe that information should be free?”
Assuming the expected answer is yes then the very first sentence…
“DO NOT SHARE THIS INFORMATION!”
…seems a bit hypocritical.
While the idea
of a secret society recruiting individuals by means of elaborate cryptographic
puzzles may seem a bit absurd or even conspiratorial, it’s not entirely unfounded.
Corporations and governments alike have employed
similar recruitment techniques since at least
the second World War.
In 2013, the British intelligence
agency GCHQ launched a recruitment program known as
“Can You Find It?”.
Participants had to decrypt a number of cryptograms hidden
across the internet and those who managed
to solve the entire puzzle were offered a
prize or a position at the agency.
Google did something similar with enigmatic billboards back
in 2004 and the US Navy launched
a near-identical project in 2014. Okay,
but then, what about the recruits?
Why have we not heard from these chosen few? Well,
It’s just that separating a legitimate finalist from an impostor is virtually impossible.
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone,
two alleged winners of the first puzzle chronicled
Stone采访时 有两位 据称是第一个谜题的获奖者
the events beyond the final stage.
After receiving an email
from Cicada they were taken to a forum on the dark web. Here,
they could communicate
with some twenty some odd recruits as well as a handful of
established members of Cicada.
They were told that Cicada 3301 had been founded
by a group of friends who shared common ideals
about security, privacy, and censorship.
The goal was to work
as a collective to develop software applications in line with that ideology.
As friends recruited friends,
this secret society quickly expanded into a decentralized
The recruits were then tasked
with developing software that fit the ideology of the group
and members of Cicada would oversee their progress.
But without the allure of a puzzle to be solved,
the recruits quickly lost interest.
By the end of 2012 all but one
had left and a few months later the site was gone.
除了一个人之外 所有人都离开了 几个月后 该网站消失了
They never heard from Cicada again.
One of the two winners,
named Marcus Wanner, later elaborated further in a video by YouTuber Nox Populi. Furthermore,
后来被命名为Marcus Wanner YouTuber Nox Populi在视频中进一步阐述
Nox Populi himself claims to be a winner
此外 Nox Populi自己声称
of the second puzzle so I reached
out to him and this is some of what he had to say.
所以我达成了 对他而言 这是他所拥有的一些东西
After completing the final stages
of the second puzzle Nox Populi received an invitation to
join Cicada 3301. However,
he was not invited to a
website but was instead merely told to be patient. Then,
around May of 2013, all communication with Cicada abruptly ceased.
然后 在2013年5月左右 所有的沟通 随着蝉突然停止
This was around the same time
as when the website dedicated to the winners of the first
puzzle was suddenly taken down.
Nox Populi later contacted other winners
of the second puzzle to compare notes and their
experiences were identical.
In his own words:
“ All the stories were the same,
we were invited to join 3301, then something happened and
我们受到邀请 加入3301 然后发生了一些事情
silence followed a request for patience.”
Nox Populi suppose
that roughly five others completed the second puzzle in contrast to
the twenty-odd winners of the first.
In regards to who or what Cicada is,
关于蝉是谁或什么 Nox Populi
Nox Populi believes they could be a remnant of the cypherpunk
movement of the late 80s and 90s.
Essentially a small group
of activists advocating widespread use of strong cryptography and
privacy-enhancing technologies but he admits that there is no way to know for certain.
他承认 隐私增强技术 没有办法确定无疑
If you want a far more comprehensive walkthrough
of these puzzles as opposed to my brief overview,
Nox Populi has produced a number of videos
on his channel which I highly recommend.
While these accounts can not be verified they do make
for a very compelling argument as
to what Cicada is.
A group of anonymous developers seeking to develop privacy-conscious applications by
recruiting talented individuals via cryptographic puzzles. Sure,
it is not nearly as exciting
as a shadow government seeking world domination or any
of the more fantastical theories but it is certainly more plausible.
You have to keep in mind that no part
of these puzzles would have required more than one person.
The posters are often pointed to as evidence
that this must be the work of some international
organization but I beg to differ.
I mean, right now,
I could use any number of services to hire random persons around
the globe to install posters for me. Although,
given that no poster was located more
than an hour away from an airport leads
me to believe that one or multiple persons actually traveled to these locations.
I mean, some of the posters were found
within walking distance of an international airport.
The fact is that anyone
with a disposable income and enough time on their hands would
be able to create the illusion of a vast secret network spanning the globe.
Not saying that is the case
with Cicada 3301 but it is nonetheless a possibility that can not be discounted.
3301就是这种情况 但确实如此 尽管如此 这种可能性无法打折扣
With all of that being said,
I personally think a loose-knit group of privacy-minded
hobby-cryptographers to be the most plausible explanation.
Cicada made their last public statement in April of 2017,
merely warning against disinformation,
but the current status
of the third puzzle and the possibility of a fourth
remains clouded in mystery.
互联网之谜 - 蝉3301
On the 4th of January, 2012,