What Is Cicada 3301 Puzzles?

It’s maybe the most baffling and captivating thing on the internet, which promises a “revelation” when you solve it. No one knows who sets it or what the prize is at the end, but Cicada 3301 has posted mysterious, challenging puzzles for three years straight, in an attempt to recruit and enlighten the best cryptanalysts from the public.

What Is Cicada 3301 Puzzles?

What is Cicada 3301?

The first Internet puzzle has begun on January 5, 2012, and ran for roughly one month. A second round began precisely one year later on January 5, 2013, and a third round was set up in 2014 as well. Claiming to seek “brilliant individuals,” the Cicada 3301 puzzle challenged visitors to find a secret message hidden in the image that went with it.

OK, this is probably getting pretty weird by now – what exactly is Cicada 3301? Even the name is cryptic – an insect and an apparently meaningless prime number, what does it all mean? We don’t know, and few people in the world do. They just post things like this:

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.


These are not your every day “spend an afternoon solving them” puzzles. These are highly difficult and highly cryptic puzzles.  To understand just how hard they are, you need to look at the intricacy of each clue that leads to successive parts of the puzzle–all of which need to be completed to solve the Cicada mystery. Each message leads to a puzzle, each puzzle more troublesome than the last.

Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is – isn’t it all just a joke? Couldn’t it all be just a very elaborate internet troll, having a laugh and making all these people work through these puzzles? That’s highly far-fetched. Throughout the testing, multiple clues have required participants to travel to different spots to retrieve the next clue – the places include several locations in the US, as well as Australia, Granada (Spain), Moscow (Russia), Okinawa (Japan), Warsaw (Poland), and Paris (France)These clues showed up virtually at the same time, suggesting an organized project. Besides, the complexity of the puzzles and the variety of mediums they were posted on suggest a resourceful organization, willing to spend lots of money to their end – so not an internet troll. The mentioned mediums included telephone, original music, bootable Linux CDs, digital images, physical paper signs, and pages of unpublished cryptic books.

Could it be a top-notch organization, like the CIAMI6, or some other organization? They certainly have the resources for it, but that’s also very impossible. While these organizations do conduct unconventional ways to recruit people from the general population, they always make this public. They announce the competition, they announce what it’s for, it’s a very different strategy.

The other concept is that banks chipping away at digital currency are behind Cicada, but at the same time that is impossible, because of the idea of the riddles. The riddles are all … insubordinate, supporting (pretty much unobtrusively) a right to security, a battle against a 1984-like controlling framework, essentially something contrary to what you'd anticipate from banks. Discussing the riddles…

The Cicada puzzles

The first puzzle was posted in 2012, initially on one of 4chan’s boards, which is arguably one of the best places you’d expect something like this to pop up. The first image said:

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.


It was signed “3301”. Joel Eriksson, a 34-year-old cryptosecurity researcher, and developer from Sweden is one of the few known people to have almost solved it all the way through. To crack the code hidden in the first picture, he used steganography software to extract a message encoded with a shift cipher – each letter corresponds to another letter. After he decoded the cypher, it led him to an URL with the image of a duck.

What Is Cicada 3301 Puzzles?

Here, another steganographic approach uncovered a secret book code of a list of two numbers isolated by a colon. The book then led to a Reddit address with Mayan numerals on the top of the page. Things were beginning to get trickier, trickier, and trickier. He noticed that a few posts published by a user seemed to comprise encoded text, which could be decoded with the code from the book. After working through this code, he was led to two different images, which also contained secret messages, eventually leading him to a phone number in Texas. Calling the phone number led to a voicemail that read:

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. 

After he did the math, he reached a URL that told him to come back at a specific time. When he did, the URL uncovered a series of numbers, which were GPS facilitates to telephone poles in countries around the world, including Spain, Russia, America, France, Japan, and Poland. Of course, it’s not possible to travel all around the world and look for codes, so he had to rely on the help of other people working on the Cicada puzzles. As it turns out, the GPS coordinates yielded QR codes which lead to another two images, inside of which were more hidden text, including text from what Eriksson found was the William Gibson poem Agrippa, which was only released on 3.5-inch floppies.

What Is Cicada 3301 Puzzles?

Using the same code from the previous book which he used on Reddit, he went through another series of puzzles (including a poem from a collection of medieval Welsh manuscripts), and he was led to a website on the Tor network – which was the last stop, the ultimate destination of the riddles. But the timing was wrong. Cicada 3301 sniffed out that people across the world were collaborating to solve the problems, and only the quickest ones to reach it were rewarded. Shortly afterward, it was blanked, and replaced with the statement “We want the best, not the followers.” That year, Cicada was over.

Eriksson was disappointed – especially as he started working on the puzzles one week later than everybody else.

“It was quite disappointing,” Eriksson says. “Especially considering that the people who registered in time were mostly ones that had not actually solved much of the puzzles themselves. People were sharing solutions and collaborating a bit too much.”

However, the fact that he got to the last stage all by himself, and almost one week quicker than anybody else is remarkable; he also learned a lot about Cicada in the process.

“Getting a phone number to call after solving one of the pieces of the puzzle was the first hint that this might not just be the work of a random Internet troll. This was definitely an unexpected turn,” Eriksson says. “The plot thickened even more when receiving a number of GPS coordinates. I also can’t help but to notice that the locations in question–USA, Poland, France, South Korea, and Australia–are all places with some of the most talented hackers and IT security researchers in the world.”

What Is Cicada 3301 Puzzles?

He too believes that whoever is behind the Cicada organization, it’s not something like the CIA or NSA, or any bank or financial enterprise. He too mentions that in the process of solving the riddles, he found many references and clues suggesting that the organization is incredibly different in nature.

“It is most likely an underground organization, not related to any government or intelligence agency,” he says. “Based on the references in their challenges–the Agrippa poem by William Gibson, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, The Book of The Law by Aleister Crowley–and their constant references to prime numbers and the like, they are likely intellectual, anti-establishment, ideologically driven and they seem to be valuing logical/analytical thinking highly. They seem to share a lot of ideology with the cryptoanarchy movement, and old-school hackers.”

Most people expected it to be a one-time thing, but on January 5, 2013, exactly a year and a day after the first posting, a new image was uploaded onto 4chan’s message board.

“Hello again. Our search for intelligent individuals now continues,” it began.

The puzzles were different but similar in nature, the references were different and similar in nature, and just like the first time, the final URL was closed shortly before it was opened – deeming only the very first ones as winners. For people who had failed 2 years in a row, there was nothing left to do except wait for the 2014 challenge – which came.

Rather than an image posted on 4chan, the 2014 Cicada puzzles started on a Twitter feed that had been involved in 2013’s hunt. Again, they shared a cryptical image, and the nature of the contest seemed to be identical. There’s a really good article in The Guardian, where one editor describes his attempt, and ultimate failure, at solving all the puzzles.

The only piece of half-reliable information we have about who or what Cicada is and what they want comes from a leaked email from one of the ‘winners’ of the 2012 challenge. It reads:

“You have all wondered who we are,” it reads in part, “and so we shall now tell you. We are an international group. We have no name. We have no symbol. We have no membership rosters. We do not have a public website and we do not advertise ourselves. We are a group of individuals who have proven ourselves, much like you have, by completing this recruitment contest, and we are drawn together by common beliefs. A careful reading of the texts used in the contest would have revealed some of these beliefs: that tyranny and oppression of any kind must end, that censorship is wrong, and that privacy is an inalienable right.”

My considerations on Cicada

If this is to be sure obvious, then there is one organization, which seems very harmonious with Cicada: Anonymous. Anonymous is an extremely odd peculiarity, an approximately related worldwide organization of activist and hacktivist entities. A website ostensibly associated with the group describes it as “an internet gathering” with “a very loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than orders” – but they usually like to keep a low profile, popping up only when they really want to.

They’ve done a few beneficial things, and a few terrible things, that’s not the point of discussion here. The thing is, they too stand for the right to privacy, fighting against oppression and persecution; they too are an international underground organization who don’t advertise themselves and have proven themselves through various actions. To say that there is any connection between Cicada and Anonymous is truly a jump, and there is nothing more than half-solid conditional proof to that, but there definitely are some similarities between the two.

So, we are now left with the question: is it a good thing that a mysterious, rebellious organization that claims to protect rights and fight tyranny is gathering some of the world’s brightest minds through a series of confounding puzzles every year? I’m not sold here. I don’t like the way most websites handle my personal data nowadays. I dislike the fact that Facebook is using my personal data as a product, I dislike that Google shows different things based on my history, and I dislike the fact that everyone is trying to shove “targeted ads” down my throat. There is no privacy on the internet, even when theoretically and legally, there should be. Whoever is doing this is obviously highly intelligent, and resourceful, and is gathering more and more in like manner individuals, so they have every chance to achieve big things.

Do I need an underground association safeguarding my protection? Certainly, why not - the "customary" framework plainly bombed us on this one. Do I fairly question their sincere goals? Indeed, without a doubt. I don't have the foggiest idea what their final plan is. They infer it's sure, yet we do have not a really obvious explanation to think somehow. However, maybe the main inquiry is: Could they at any point wind up doing more off-base than right, regardless of whether they mean well? I don't have a solution to that, however, I have an inclination we might find out beautiful soon. All things considered, it's been a long time since they've enrolled individuals.

The other thing which is enticing to interface Cicada with is Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a distributed installment framework presented as open-source programming in 2009 - you could call it virtual cash, despite the fact that it doesn't meet the by and largely perceived meaning of cash; the US government calls it decentralized money. In recent years, Bitcoin has developed by a component of the north of 100, in the beyond 2 years, fluctuating hugely in brief timeframes, making certain individuals extremely rich, and making others lose a large chunk of change. It was created by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto - whose character isn't known. Certain individuals accept that it is really not a man, but rather a gathering, because of the enormous and shrewd work that was placed into bitcoins (beginning to see the example?).

Bitcoins are not upheld in gold or some other item, however, they are made as compensation for installment handling work in which clients who offer their figuring power check and record installments into a public record. Keeping Bitcoins free and independent requires a ton of first-class work, particularly as they develop to an ever-increasing extent. Him/they would require capable individuals to work, and might likewise presumably want to stay under the radar, controlling it and getting it far from the traditional press until now is the ideal opportunity. You'd likewise need individuals of a specific mental profile, which could be conveyed and addressed through the implications in the riddles. They would likewise have the assets and the inspiration to accomplish something of this scale, so it appears to fit quite well.

Or maybe it’s something else – maybe it’s an evil organization, maybe it’s aliens or a fanatical religious group, I don’t know. I’ve tried my best to come up with answers, and that’s the best I got. I guess, all we have left to do is to wait and see if Cicada 3301 will make a return next year, and keep an eye out. Many people expected Cicada 2014 to be the biggest and final one – we’ll see.

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