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January 9, 2014

The Cicada’s call

The mysterious, arcane internet puzzle is back.

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Okay, so my blog post title might sound like the name of a new Murakami novel but it relates to something that’s probably even more byzantine and surreal than the plots devised by the Japanese author.

The enigmatic Cicada 3301 has returned.

The internet puzzle has led hackers and techies to the dark net and back, making allusions to Aleister Crowley, King Arthur and cyberpunk writer William Gibson along the way as the sheer mystery of its purpose continues to make headlines.

Cicada was first spotted in January 2012 on an internet forum, 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. Good luck."

It emerged again a year later with the message "Hello again. Our search for intelligent individuals now continues," shining a dim light on a twisting path of clues that took people to real world locations such as Dallas and Moscow, where the trail went cold.

The belief is that a select few were invited to participate in a private puzzle.

Cicada was announced via a Twitter account this year – it linked to an image that read: "Hello. Epiphany is upon you. Your pilgrimage has begun. Enlightenment awaits. Good luck. 3301."

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It now has thousands of ‘solvers’ dedicated to cracking the challenge this time, and some have even established a Cicada wiki to help one another with clues.

They’ll need it, too, with the puzzle so far requiring an understanding of OutGuess, a steganography too used to hide data inside images – often by terrorists and paedophiles.

The question that is getting people obsessed with Cicada, though, is who, or what, is behind it?

Experts say some of the real-life locations to which people were directed are famous for their hacking talent, leading some to suspect hacktivists like Anonymous are behind it, while others believe it is the work of a government recruitment drive.

One thing that is certain is that those chosen aren’t telling. In a world where pretty much all information is just a few clicks away, Cicada 3301 is a mystery worthy of Thomas Pynchon himself: it makes the world feel less real, and lends credence to the suspicion that someone else is pulling the strings…

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