Cicada 3301

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Cicada 3301 logo

Cicada 3301 is a nickname given to three sets of puzzles posted under the name "3301" online between 2012 and 2014. The first puzzle started on January 2, 2012, on 4chan[1] and ran for nearly a month. A second round of puzzles began one year later on January 4, 2013, and then a third round following the confirmation of a fresh clue posted on Twitter on January 4, 2014.[2][3] The third puzzle has yet to be solved. The stated intent was to recruit "intelligent individuals" by presenting a series of puzzles to be solved; no new puzzles were published on January 4, 2015. A new clue was posted on Twitter on January 5, 2016.[4][5] Cicada 3301 posted their last verified OpenPGP-signed message in April 2017, denying the validity of any unsigned puzzle.[6]

The puzzles focused heavily on data security, cryptography, steganography, and internet anonymity.[7][8][9] It has been called "the most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age",[10] and is listed as one of the "top 5 eeriest, unsolved mysteries of the internet" by The Washington Post,[11] and much speculation exists as to its function. Many have speculated that the puzzles are a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA,[12] MI6, a "Masonic conspiracy",[13] or a cyber mercenary group.[1][7] Others have stated Cicada 3301 is an alternate reality game, although no company or individual has attempted to monetize it.[10] Some of the final contestants believe that Cicada 3301 is a remnant of the late 1980s and 1990s Cypherpunk movement.[14][better source needed]


The stated purpose of the puzzles each year was to recruit "highly intelligent individuals", although the ultimate purpose remains unknown.[1] Theories have included claims that Cicada 3301 is a secret society with the goal of improving cryptography, privacy and anonymity or that it is a cult or religion.[15][16][17] According to statements of several people who won the 2012 puzzle, 3301 typically uses non-puzzle-based recruiting methods, but created the Cicada puzzles because they were looking for potential members with cryptography and computer security skills.[15]


The first puzzle, of 2013, was solved by Marcus Wanner.[18] According to him, those who solved the puzzles were asked questions about their support of information freedom, online privacy and freedom, and rejection of censorship. Those who answered satisfactorily at this stage were invited to a private forum, where they were instructed to devise and complete a project intended to further the ideals of the group.[15] He did not finish his work on a method of general decryption and the website was removed.[citation needed]

Types of clues[edit]

Locations of the physical paper signs from the 2012 puzzle

The Cicada 3301 clues spanned many different forms of communication media, including the internet, telephone, original music, bootable Linux CDs, digital images, physical paper signs, and pages of unpublished cryptic books written in runes. In total there were two pieces of music, titled "The Instar Emergence" and "Interconnectedness", accompanying the Cicada clues. However, neither of them were part of a standard repertoire, and neither the composers nor performers have been identified. Cicada 3301 also wrote a book, titled Liber Primus, literally "first book"; it contains many pages, only some of which have been decrypted. In addition to using many varying techniques to encrypt, encode, or hide data, these clues also referenced a wide variety of books, poetry, artwork and music.[1] Each clue was signed by the same OpenPGP private key to confirm authenticity.[9][19]

Allegations against the group[edit]

Allegations of illegal activity[edit]

Authorities from the Los Andes Province of Chile claimed that Cicada 3301 is a "hacker group" and engaged in illegal activities. Cicada 3301 responded to this claim by issuing a PGP-signed statement denying any involvement in illegal activity.[20][21]

In July 2015, a group calling themselves "3301" hacked into Planned Parenthood's database;[22] however, the group appeared to have no association to Cicada 3301.[23] Cicada 3301 later issued a PGP-signed statement stating they "are not associated with this group in any way" and also stated that Cicada 3301 did not "condone their use of our name, number, or symbolism".[24] The hacker group later confirmed that they were not affiliated with Cicada 3301.[25]

Claims of being a cult[edit]

As the group gained notoriety and public attention, many asserted that the puzzles were an introduction to occult principles, and possibly even recruitment for a cult. Conspiracy theorist Tim Dailey, a former senior research fellow with the conservative Christian Family Research Council, analyzed Cicada 3301 puzzles and stated, "The enigmatic Cicada 3301 appears to be drawing participants inexorably into the dark web of the occult à la Blavatsky and Crowley. At the heart of the enchantment is the counterfeit promise of ultimate meaning through self-divination."[17][26][better source needed]


During the first months of QAnon's existence, there were rumors that Cicada 3301 had created QAnon.[27] One early QAnon promoter urged Cicada 3301 puzzlers to help decode Q's messages.[28]

Despite this, 3301 themselves have not publicly stated to be involved with QAnon in any way.

In popular culture[edit]

The United States Navy released a cryptographic challenge based on the Cicada 3301 recruitment puzzles in 2014 calling it Project Architeuthis.[29][30]

The plot of "Nautilus", a 2014 episode of Person of Interest, featured a large-scale game very similar to the Cicada 3301 puzzles. Both feature a series of worldwide cryptographic puzzles, but as the title implies, these feature the image of a nautilus shell instead of a cicada logo.[31] Person of Interest creator Jonathan Nolan and producer Greg Plageman stated in an interview that Cicada 3301 was the inspiration for the episode: "Episode 2, I'm particularly fascinated by the subject underneath it. Look up Cicada 3301 on the internet. It's a very interesting concept out there that we then put into a larger story that connects to our show."[32]

The organization is the subject of the 2021 comedy-thriller film Dark Web: Cicada 3301.[33][34] Directed by Alan Ritchson, who co-wrote the script with Joshua Montcalm, it stars Jack Kesy, Conor Leslie, Ron Funches, Kris Holden-Ried, Andreas Apergis, and Ritchson. The film follows a hacker who participates in Cicada's recruitment game while evading the NSA.[35][36]

In the video game Assassin's Creed Origins, a member of the Isu civilisation references Cicada when listing off various mysteries of history.[37]

The Cicada 3301 puzzles play a major role in the Visual Novel Anonymous;Code.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "The internet mystery that has the world baffled over its difficulty". The Daily Telegraph. 25 November 2013. Archived from the original on 25 November 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  2. ^ Bell, Chris. "Cicada 3301 update: the baffling internet mystery is back". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on April 12, 2018. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
  3. ^ Hern, Alex (January 10, 2014). "Cicada 3301: I tried the hardest puzzle on the internet and failed spectacularly". The Guardian. Archived from the original on December 21, 2016.
  4. ^ Puzzle Image, archived from the original on 2016-01-16, retrieved 2016-05-14
  5. ^ Cicada 3301. "Cicada 3301's new puzzle (Dead Image)". Archived from the original on May 7, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Threat Stack (19 April 2017). "Cicadas & Security, Part 2: When a Verified PGP Key Takes You on a Trip to the Desert". Archived from the original on 2 August 2017. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  7. ^ a b Lipinski, Jed. "Chasing the Cicada: Exploring the Darkest Corridors of the Internet". Mental_Floss. Archived from the original on 20 September 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  8. ^ Ernst, Douglas (November 26, 2013). "Secret society seeks world's brightest: Recruits navigate 'darknet' filled with terrorism, drugs". The Washington Times. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
  9. ^ a b Bell, Chris (7 January 2014). "Cicada 3301 update: the baffling internet mystery is back". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 January 2014.
  10. ^ a b Scott, Sam (16 December 2013). "Cicada 3301: The most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age". Metro. Retrieved 16 December 2013.
  11. ^ Dewey, Caitlin (21 May 2014). "Five of the Internet's eeriest, unsolved mysteries". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 May 2014.
  12. ^ "Is mystery internet challenge a recruiting tool for the CIA?". Channel 4 News. 27 November 2013. Archived from the original on 28 August 2015. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  13. ^ Vincent, James (7 January 2014). "Masonic conspiracy or MI6 recruitment tool? Internet mystery Cicada 3301 starts up again". The Independent. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  14. ^ "Cicada 3301: An Internet Mystery". LEMMiNO.
  15. ^ a b c Kushner, David (29 January 2015). "Cicada: Solving the Web's Deepest Mystery". No. 1227. Rolling Stone. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  16. ^ Tucker, Daniel (30 December 2013). "Meet the Teenage Codebreaker Who Helped Solve the Cicada 3301 Internet Puzzle". NPR/WNYC New Tech City. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
  17. ^ a b Dailey, Timothy (2015-07-07). The Paranormal Conspiracy: The Truth about Ghosts, Aliens and Mysterious Beings. Chosen Books. pp. 145–161. ISBN 978-0800797768.
  18. ^ "Cracking the Code of Cicada 3301". YouTube. Great Big Story. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  19. ^ Mihai, Andrei (April 28, 2014). "Cicada 3301: A puzzle for the brightest minds, posted by an unknown, mysterious organization". ZME Science. Retrieved February 26, 2015.
  20. ^ Andes Online. "PDI advierte sobre nueva modalidad de estafa por internet a través de google". Andes Online.
  21. ^ Pastebin. "PGP signed Cicada message".
  22. ^ Oh, Inae. "Anti-Abortion Hackers Claim to Have Stolen Data That Could Take Down Planned Parenthood". Mother Jones. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  23. ^ Turton, William (27 July 2015). "Anti-abortion hackers attack Planned Parenthood, release databases, employee data". Daily Dot. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Public Statement". Cicada 3301.
  25. ^ Hacker Group. "Public Statement".
  26. ^ Ross, Benjamin (2015-05-05). Millennial Mysticism (1 ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 115–121. ISBN 978-1512043051.
  27. ^ Rothschild, Mike (May 29, 2018). "Who is Q Anon, the internet's most mysterious poster?". The Daily Dot. Retrieved July 5, 2018.
  28. ^ Bloom, Mia; Moskalenko, Sophia (2021). "1". Pastels and Pedophiles: Inside the Mind of QAnon. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 8. ISBN 9781503630611.
  29. ^ McEvoy, Maria (30 April 2014). "US Navy attempting to recruit cryptologists through Facebook game". Telegraph. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  30. ^ Stanely, T.L. (29 April 2014). "The U.S. Navy Wants You – To Solve This Puzzle". Mashable. Retrieved 1 May 2014.
  31. ^ Planje, Alexa (1 October 2014). "Review: Person Of Interest: 'Nautilus'". A.V. Club. Retrieved 1 October 2014.
  32. ^ Roffman, Marisa. "Person of Interest Season 4: Greg Plageman and Jonathan Nolan Tease a Cold War, the Loss of Sanctuary, and More". Give Me My Remote. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  33. ^ Hipes, Patrick (6 March 2018). "Phreaker Films Launches With Silicon Valley VC Cash; Alan Ritchson To Run It". Deadline. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
  34. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (10 September 2020). "Grindstone Acquires Alan Ritchson's Comedy-Thriller 'Cicada 3301'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 10 September 2020.
  35. ^ Adams, Tim (13 January 2021). "Dark Web: Cicada 3301 Red-Band Trailer Recruits Titans Stars". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  36. ^ Price, Jason (14 January 2021). "'Dark Web: Cicada 3301' – Cyber-Thriller Starring Alan Ritchson Hits Digital and On Demand March 12!". Icon Vs. Icon. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  37. ^ "Assassins Creed Origins First Civilisation Segment 5". YouTube. Retrieved 27 October 2017.

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