25 Dec 2019
If you don't know what Cicada 3301 is, please watch this documentary first (all four parts): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RatbYqc0-jE.
For all of you who do know what Cicada 3301 is, just a quick recap. In early January 2012, a mysterious puzzle showed up on the internet:
The first puzzle would lead you to the second one, and the third and so on and only a few individuals would make it to the final stage, where they would get a special invitation by the mysterious puzzle creators themselves (the 3301 group).
The puzzles were very creative and required various skills to complete them. At one point, it also required the solvers to find sheets of paper on various physical locations all over the world (USA, France, South Korea, Poland) and scan the QR codes printed on the papers.
The share extent of the operation immediately leads us to the question: Who would create a puzzle like this?
Many people have argued the NSA is behind Cicada 3301 because they often put out puzzles like this in order to recruit people.
We highly doubt NSA (or a similar government agency) is behind this. First of all, when NSA releases a puzzle, they don't hide the fact they are behind it.
But more importantly, they don't want to hide the fact they are behind their puzzles. Why? Because they want to hire people who are open to working at NSA.
There are quite a lot of people in the hacker/privacy community who don't want to work for any government.
So why going the length of keeping the true purpose of the puzzle secret until the very end and then revealing to the solver: "Hey, it's us, the NSA, come work for us", when there's a high chance the solver would say no. And then tell everyone Cicada 3301 is, in fact, the NSA.
For the NSA, it makes more sense to be open from the start that they are behind a puzzle so that they filter out people who would not want to work for the government at any cost.
One of the Cicada solvers (as shown in the documentary) who got an invitation to join 3301, later explained how participating in the group looked like.
The invitees were separated into smaller groups (the communication was strictly online, no one ever met in-person). Each of the groups had to come up with a cypherpunk project and work on it.
If the NSA were behind it, he would get a job offer instead. He wouldn't be put to work on some project without knowing it's for the NSA and without pay. It's a government agency nonetheless.
Coming from the crypto world, we couldn't help but see the similarities between 3301 and Satoshi:
In addition, as you've probably already noted, most of 3301 messages use double-spacing after each sentence which was something Satoshi also did.
As the invitation message noted, the 3301 group primarily focuses on "researching and developing techniques to aid the ideas we advocate: liberty, privacy, security".
Eric Hughes, one of the original cypherpunks, wrote in his Cypherpunk's Manifesto that "Cypherpunks write code". This means that cypherpunks do not only theorize about the cypherpunk philosophy but actually take action and develop tools that help people preserve privacy, anonymity and enable the freedom of information.
If the 3301 group follows this approach, it means that they are basically a cypherpunk "R&D department" or a cypherpunk "startup accelerator".
The 3301 group also wrote: "you have undoubtedly heard of a few of our past projects". Is Bitcoin one of these past projects?
With the rise of the surveillance state - the most infamous of all being China with the social credit score - it's even more important than ever before to have access (and actually use) tools that ensure privacy, anonymity, and freedom of information. Even when you think you have nothing to hide.