At the beginning of 2012, an image appeared on an Internet forum called 4chan that caught the attention of code-breakers and puzzle solvers. It was posted by an organization known only as Cicada 3301.

That image (shown above) was just white text on a black background that 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. Good luck.”


Cicada 3301 caught on worldwide and people have found clues on all the inhabited continents.

And yet, no one knows why Cicada 3301 was created and who’s behind it.

Some people think it is just a puzzle game. Others feel it is more than that.

3301bThe “game” has sucked in encryption and IT security experts around the world.

In most case, their efforts to crack the code have been a failure.

Conspiracy often follows mystery. Some have suggested that Cicada 3301 is really the NSA, the CIA or MI6 in disguise. Is it a way to recruit “highly intelligent individuals” into those organizations?

The first part of the puzzle was an example of digital steganography – a message was concealed the JPEG image itself.

People were able to alter the image with code and it produced a picture of a plastic duck and a message: ‘Woops, just decoys this way. Looks like you can’t guess how to get the message out.’

Cicada 3301 is an elaborate puzzle or plot. But why?

Is it an Alternate Reality Game (ARG)? If so, why doesn’t someone take credit for it?  Wouldn’t a commercial enterprise have monetized the puzzles by now?

The Cicada 3301 clues have spanned many different communication mediums including Internet, telephone, original music, bootable Linux CDs, digital images, and physical paper signs.

It uses a variety of techniques to encrypt, encode, or hide data. The clues have alluded to books, poetry, artwork, and music.

Each clue has been “signed” using the same GnuPG private key in order to confirm that it is authentic.

On the podcast Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, they cover everything from ancient history to UFOs, government secrets, lots of conspiracies, the future of civilization and they did a show about Cicada 3301.

If you want to go down this rabbit hole yourself, there is an Uncovering Cicada wiki site. Let us know what you uncover.