[FoRK] [Doctrinezero] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/10468112/The-internet-mystery-that-has-the-world-baffled.html
Gregory Alan Bolcer
greg at bolcer.org
Wed Nov 27 11:47:51 PST 2013
He looks like a total tool.
He and all his friends all have 1 level deep accounts with limited
timelines. Some of which appear to be actors or performance artists.
Some reverse google image searches are typical.
There is an odd soundcloud relationship. A quick google on soundcloud and
cicada has a bunch of crap.
It looks like some stupid viral ad campaign.
On Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 6:08 AM, Eugen Leitl <eugen at leitl.org> wrote:
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> Date: Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:33:55 +0000
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> To: "doctrinezero at zerostate.is" <doctrinezero at zerostate.is>, "
> zs-media at zerostate.is" <zs-media at zerostate.is>
> Subject: [Doctrinezero]
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> The internet mystery that has the world baffled For the past two years, a
> mysterious online organisation has been setting the world's finest
> code-breakers a series of seemingly unsolveable problems. But to what end?
> Welcome to the world of Cicada 3301
> [image: cicada 3301]
> By Chris Bell
> 11:00AM GMT 25 Nov 2013
> [image: Comments]865
> One evening in January last year, Joel Eriksson, a 34-year-old computer
> analyst from Uppsala in Sweden, was trawling the web, looking for
> distraction, when he came across a message on an internet forum. The
> message was in stark white type, against a black background.
> “Hello,” it said. “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.”
> The message was signed: "3301”.
> A self-confessed IT security "freak” and a skilled cryptographer,
> Eriksson’s interest was immediately piqued. This was – he knew – an example
> of digital steganography: the concealment of secret information within a
> digital file. Most often seen in conjunction with image files, a recipient
> who can work out the code – for example, to alter the colour of every 100th
> pixel – can retrieve an entirely different image from the randomised
> background "noise”.
> It’s a technique more commonly associated with nefarious ends, such as
> concealing child pornography. In 2002 it was suggested that al-Qaeda
> operatives had planned the September 11 attacks via the auction site eBay,
> encrypting messages inside digital photographs
> Sleepily – it was late, and he had work in the morning – Eriksson thought
> he’d try his luck decoding the message from "3301”. After only a few
> minutes work he’d got somewhere: a reference to "Tiberius Claudius Caesar”
> and a line of meaningless letters. Joel deduced it might be an embedded
> "Caesar cipher” – an encryption technique named after Julius Caesar, who
> used it in private correspondence. It replaces characters by a letter a
> certain number of positions down the alphabet. As Claudius was the fourth
> emperor, it suggested "four” might be important – and lo, within minutes,
> Eriksson found another web address buried in the image’s code.
> Feeling satisfied, he clicked the link.
> It was a picture of a duck with the message: "Woops! Just decoys this way.
> Looks like you can’t guess how to get the message out.”
> "If something is too easy or too routine, I quickly lose interest,” says
> Eriksson. "But it seemed like the challenge was a bit harder than a Caesar
> cipher after all. I was hooked.”
> Eriksson didn’t realise it then, but he was embarking on one of the
> internet’s most enduring puzzles; a scavenger hunt that has led thousands
> of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several
> physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the
> "darknet”. So far, the hunt has required a knowledge of number theory,
> philosophy and classical music. An interest in both cyberpunk literature
> and the Victorian occult has also come in handy as has an understanding of
> Mayan numerology.
> It has also featured a poem, a tuneless guitar ditty, a femme fatale called
> "Wind” who may, or may not, exist in real life, and a clue on a lamp post
> in Hawaii. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure
> what the challenge – known as Cicada 3301 – is all about or who is behind
> it. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a mysterious secret
> society, a statement by a new political think tank, or an arcane
> recruitment drive by some quasi-military body. Which means, of course,
> everyone thinks it’s the CIA.
> For some, it’s just a fun game, like a more complicated Sudoku; for others,
> it has become an obsession. Almost two years on, Eriksson is still trying
> to work out what it means for him. "It is, ultimately, a battle of the
> brains,” he says. "And I have always had a hard time resisting a
> On the night of January 5 2012, after reading the "decoy” message from the
> duck, Eriksson began to tinker with other variables.
> Taking the duck’s mockery as a literal clue, Eriksson decided to run it
> through a decryption program called OutGuess. Success: another hidden
> message, this time linking to another messageboard on the massively popular
> news forum *Reddit <http://www.reddit.com/>*. Here, encrypted lines from a
> book were being posted every few hours. But there were also strange symbols
> comprising of several lines and dots – Mayan numbers, Eriksson realised.
> And duly translated, they led to another cipher.
> Up until now, Eriksson would admit, none of the puzzles had really required
> any advanced skills, or suggested anything other than a single anonymous
> riddle-poser having some fun. "But then it all changed,” says Eriksson.
> "And things started getting interesting.”
> Suddenly, the encryption techniques jumped up a gear. And the puzzles
> themselves mutated in several different directions: hexadecimal characters,
> reverse-engineering, prime numbers. Pictures of the cicada insect –
> reminiscent of the moth imagery in Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs
> – became a common motif.
> "I knew cicadas only emerge every prime number of years – 13, or 17 – to
> avoid synchronising with the life cycles of their predators,” says
> Eriksson. "It was all starting to fit together.” The references became more
> arcane too. The book, for example, turned out to be "The Lady of the
> Fountain”, a poem about King Arthur taken from* The Mabinogion
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mabinogion>*, a collection of pre-Christian
> medieval Welsh manuscripts.
> Later, the puzzle would lead him to the cyberpunk writer William Gibson –
> specifically his 1992 poem "Agrippa” (a book of the dead), infamous for the
> fact that it was only published on a 3.5in floppy disk, and *was programmed
> to erase itself after being read once <http://agrippa.english.ucsb.edu/>*.
> But as word spread across the web, thousands of amateur codebreakers joined
> the hunt for clues. Armies of users of* 4chan <http://www.4chan.org/>*,
> anarchic internet forum where the first Cicada message is thought to have
> appeared, pooled their collective intelligence – and endless free time – to
> crack the puzzles.
> Within hours they’d decoded "The Lady of the Fountain”. The new message,
> however, was another surprise: "Call us,” it read, "at telephone number
> 214-390-9608”. By this point, only a few days after the original image was
> posted, Eriksson had taken time off work to join the pursuit full time.
> "This was definitely an unexpected turn,” he recalls. "And the first hint
> that this might not just be the work of a random internet troll.” Although
> now disconnected, the phone line was based in Texas, and led to an
> answering machine. There, a robotic voice told them to find the prime
> numbers in the original image. By multiplying them together, the solvers
> found a new prime and a new website: 845145127.com. A countdown clock and
> huge picture of a cicada confirmed they were on the right path.
> "It was thrilling, breathtaking by now,” says Eriksson. "This shared
> feeling of discovery was immense. But the plot was about to thicken even
> more.” Once the countdown reached zero, at 5pm GMT on January 9, it showed
> 14 GPS coordinates around the world: locations in Warsaw, Paris, Seattle,
> Seoul, Arizona, California, New Orleans, Miami, Hawaii and Sydney. Sat in
> Sweden, Eriksson waited as, around the globe, amateur solvers left their
> apartments to investigate. And, one by one reported what they’d found: a
> poster, attached to a lamp post, bearing the cicada image and a QR code
> (the black-and-white bar code often seen on adverts these days and designed
> to take you to a website via your smartphone).
> "It was exhilarating,” said Eriksson. "I was suddenly aware of how much
> effort they must have been putting into creating this kind of challenge.”
> For the growing Cicada community, it was explosive – proof this wasn’t
> merely some clever neckbeard in a basement winding people up, but actually
> a global organisation of talented people. But who?
> Speculation had been rife since the image first appeared. Some thought
> Cicada might merely be a PR stunt; a particularly labyrinthine Alternate
> Reality Game (ARG) built by a corporation to ultimately – and
> disappointingly – promote a new movie or car.
> Microsoft, for example, had enjoyed huge success with their critically
> acclaimed "I Love Bees” ARG campaign. Designed to promote the Xbox game
> Halo 2 in 2004, it used random payphones worldwide to broadcast a War of
> the Worlds-style radio drama that players would have to solve.
> But there were complicating factors to Cicada. For one, the organisers
> were actively working against the participants. One "solver”, a female
> known only as Wind from Michigan, contributed to the quest on several
> messageboards before the community spotted she was deliberately
> disseminating false clues. Other interference was more pointed. One long,
> cautionary diatribe, left anonymously on the website Pastebin, claimed to
> be from an ex-Cicada member – a non-English military officer recruited to
> the organisation "by a superior”. Cicada, he said, "was a Left-Hand Path
> religion disguised as a progressive scientific organisation” – comprising
> of "military officers, diplomats, and academics who were dissatisfied with
> the direction of the world”. Their plan, the writer claimed, was to
> transform humanity into the Nietzschen Übermensch.
> "This is a dangerous organisation,” he concluded, "their ways are
> nefarious.” With no other clues, it was also asssumed by many to be a
> recruitment drive by the CIA, MI6 or America’s National Security Agency
> (NSA), as part of a search for highly talented cryptologists. It wouldn’t
> have been the first time such tactics had been used.
> Back in 2010, for example, Air Force Cyber Command – the United States’
> hacking defence force, based at Fort Meade in Maryland – secretly embedded
> a complex hexadecimal code in their new logo. Cybercom head Lt Gen Keith
> Alexander then challenged the world’s amateur analysts to crack it (*it
> took them three hours
> And in September this year, *GCHQ launched the "Can You Find It?”
> a series of cryptic codes designed to root out the best British
> cryptographers. As GCHQ’s head of resourcing Jane Jones said at the time,
> "It’s a puzzle but it’s also a serious test – the jobs on offer here are
> vital to protecting national security.”
> GCHQ's 'Can You Find It?' puzzle
> Dr Jim Gillogly, former president of the American Cryptogram Association,
> has been cracking similar codes for years and says it’s a tried and tested
> recruitment tactic.
> "During the Second World War, the top-secret Government Code and Cypher
> School used crossword puzzles printed in The Daily Telegraph to identify
> good candidates for Bletchley Park,” he says. "But I’m not sure the CIA or
> NSA is behind Cicada. Both are careful with security, the recent Snowden
> case notwithstanding. And starting the puzzle on [the anarchic internet
> forum] 4chan might attract people with less respect for authority than they
> would want working inside.”
> But that doesn’t rule out other organisations. "Computer and data security
> is more important than ever today,” says Dr Gillogly. The proliferation of
> wireless devices, mobile telephones, e-commerce websites like Amazon and
> chip-and-pin machines, means the demand for cryptologists has never been
> higher. (Something the UK government acknowledged last year when it
> announced it was setting up* 11 academic "centres of excellence” in cyber
> security research
> "One of the more important components of security systems is the efficacy
> of the cryptography being used,” says Dr Gillogly. "Which means
> cryptanalysts are in higher demand than ever before - no longer just with
> the intelligence services. It could just as easily be a bank or software
> company [behind Cicada].”
> Eriksson himself agrees. As a regular speaker at Black Hat Briefings – the
> secretive computer security conferences where government agencies and
> corporations get advice from hackers – he knows certain organisations
> occasionally go "fishing” for new recruits like this. But to him the signs
> point to a recruitment drive by a hacker group like Anonymous.
> "I can’t help but notice,” he says, "that the locations in question are all
> places with some of the most talented hackers and IT security researchers
> in the world.” Either way, their identity would prove irrelevant. When the
> QR codes left on the lamp posts were decoded, a hidden message pointed the
> solvers towards a TOR address. TOR, short for The Onion Router, is an
> obscure routing network that allows anonymous access to the "darknet” – the
> vast, murky portion of the internet that cannot be indexed by standard
> search engines.* Estimated to be 5,000 times larger that the "surface" web
> in these recesses where you’ll find human-trafficking rings, black
> market drug markets and terrorist networks. And it’s here where the Cicada
> path ended.
> After a designated number of solvers visited the address, the website shut
> down with a terse message: "We want the best, not the followers." The
> chosen few received personal emails – detailing what, none have said,
> although one solver heard they were now being asked to solve puzzles in
> private. Eriksson, however, was not among them. "It was my biggest
> anticlimax – when I was too late to register my email at the TOR hidden
> service," he says. "If my sleep-wake cycle had been different, I believe I
> would have been among the first." Regardless, a few weeks later, a new
> message from Cicada was posted on Reddit. It read: "Hello. We have now
> found the individuals we sought. Thus our month-long journey ends. For
> now." All too abruptly for thousands of intrigued solvers, it had gone
> Except no. On January 4 this year, something new. A fresh image, with a new
> message in the same white text: "Hello again. Our search for intelligent
> individuals now continues." Analysis of the image would reveal another poem
> – this time from the book* Liber Al Vel Legis
> <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_the_Law>*, a religious doctrine
> by the English occultist and magician Aleister Crowley. From there, the
> solvers downloaded a 130Mb file containing thousands of prime numbers. And
> also an MP3 file: a song called The Instar Emergence by the artist 3301,
> which begins with the sound of – guess what – cicadas.
> Analysis of that has since led to a Twitter account pumping out random
> numbers, which in turn produced a "gematria": an ancient Hebrew code table,
> but this time based on Anglo-Saxon runes. This pointed the solvers back
> into the darknet, where they found seven new physical locations, from
> Dallas to Moscow to Okinawa, and more clues. But that’s where, once again,
> the trail has gone cold. Another select group of "first solvers" have been
> accepted into a new "private" puzzle – this time, say reports, a kind of
> Myers-Briggs multiple-choice personality test.
> But still, we are no closer to knowing the source, or fundamental purpose,
> of Cicada 3301. "That’s the beauty of it though," says Eriksson. "It is
> impossible to know for sure until you have solved it all." That is why for
> him, and thousands of other hooked enthusiasts, January 4 2014 is so
> important: that’s when the next set of riddles is due to begin again.
> "Maybe all will be revealed then," he grins. "But somehow, I doubt it."
> Amon Kalkin
> WAVE: Positive Social Change Through Technology
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