Cicada 3301 is often referred to as the internet’s most elaborate and mysterious puzzle, one that often leaves cryptoanalysts and hackers scratching their heads. A sort of cross between a contest, job interview and highly complex puzzle, Cicada 3301 recurs each year, but no one knows who is behind it or what prize awaits the person who solves it.
The first internet puzzle appeared online on January 5, 2012, and two subsequent rounds were released on the same day of the following years. During the first year, Cicada 3301 started with a picture on 4Chan, along with the message: “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.” The message was simply signed 3301.
The ensuing puzzle provided focused heavily on data security, cryptography and steganography. The clues were scattered in locations all over the world – from the US to France and Poland, within various forms of communication including the internet, telephone, bootable Linux CDs, digital images, and physical paper signs. The clues have also referenced several books, poetry, artwork and music. Clues are always signed by the same cryptic private key to confirm authenticity.