Cracking the Code of Cicada 3301 | EPISODE 4
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Cracking the Code of Cicada 3301 | EPISODE 4

August 24, 2019

(suspenseful electronica music) – [Narrator] In January 2012,
a mysterious organization released an intricate
puzzle on the internet, saying it was looking for
highly intelligent individuals. The group issued a new puzzle
the following two years, until its latest one couldn’t be solved. It remains a mystery to those who still are trying
to crack it, four years later. No one knows who’s behind the puzzle or how the latest piece can be decoded. Where might the solvers find the answers they’re looking for? And is there a way to truly find out who’s behind CICADA 3301? – [Electronic Voice] The key has always been right
in front of your eyes. Good luck 3301. (lively upbeat music) – [GPS] Continue for one mile. – We’re in Vegas. – Are we meeting up with Nox tonight? – Yeah, that would be awesome. – I’ve known Marcus probably
close to six years now and I’ve never had the opportunity
to meet him in real life. – Self parking, yeah. – And to be honest, I was
actually really nervous. It’s one thing when you talk to each other all the time online, but you never know how you’re gonna interact
with someone in real life once you actually kind of get there. – Hi. – Hey. So, after years for some of us
working on the Liber Primus, we decided this time to go to DEF CON. It’s the biggest hacker
conference in the world. Cryptography, internet security, all that sort of thing happens there. We had really high hopes if
we were gonna meet someone who could help us solve it, it was gonna be at a place like this. – Wow, what did you do? – I made it awesome. – [Narrator] If anyone was
going to know crypto-puzzles, you would think it’s
Crypto Village at DEF CON where they do their
badge puzzle every year. These are the kinds of
people to actually help us. This is where we’re gonna find them. – Oh, I’m gonna pull the FCC idea for this and find out what kind
of radio chip it is. – Oh, we need to set
your username, hold on. – Wait, what should we call it? – Piano Baby – It’s got a WiFi and a Bluetooth module, I can’t identify the
antennae but it’s right here. – So, the keys were actually designed by someone here named Whitney but if like this is the kind
of stuff she’s designing, I think she might be kind
of interested in CICADA. I bet she’d have some things to say on it. – I think she would be fun to talk to. – Yeah, absolutely. Excuse me, are you Whitney? – Hi.
– I’m Marcus – Marcus, nice to meet you. Hi, I’m Whitney. – I’m Winkle – Whitney, nice to meet you. I see you got one of our badges. – I did. I really love the key designs. – Oh thank you, thank
you, thank you so much. – Did you take a look at the CICADA stuff? – So, I’ve seen a little bit but I don’t know what the
text they’re referring to is. That’s where you guys are stuck, right? – Yeah, I have a copy of it. It’s 58 pages of– – Encrypted ruins. – So, I was way worse at puzzles until I started designing them cause then you start to
think differently about it. And then you also learn that like it’s much harder to design
a puzzle that’s solvable in a certain period of time. Like, I’ve screwed people over. (laughing) Our last puzzle was two years ago, and it took people three weeks
after DEF CON to finish it. And it was intended to
be done in three days. Yeah, way easier. – Do you have anybody around
here that maybe might– – Any Crypto village people who might be into this sort of stuff? – Yeah, so Maya, who I think is at the she helped me design the puzzle. She puzzles all the time. – You think it’s unsolvable? – No, I actually think it is solvable. – How do you know it hasn’t been solved? – I mean, we feel like somebody
would’ve said something, but also the Cicada
Group, so they have a PGPG that they sign all their puzzles with. – They’ve only said probably two things in the last two years and both times it was just,
hey, keep working on that. – If you were gonna make a
puzzle and never reveal yourself and you wanted to just be famous forever, you wouldn’t make a solvable puzzle. Maybe there’s just no solution to it and it’s just there to
keep people interested. – I don’t know, so there’s a puzzle fix. Too short, right? It’s like something like
a 150-ish characters that has not been solved
for like 200 years, right? And it’s supposedly,
it’s the doorbell cipher and 200 years later, it’s still unsolved. – We threw the book at it honestly. We don’t know what to do now. – So now we’re at DEF
CON asking random people. (all laughing) – Why do you think it’s only
the max size of the page? Are the pages always independent? (mumbling) I’m not gonna magically
solve it by looking at it No, it’ll help. – [Narrator] So we were really excited to show her the Liber
Primus and really quickly, we kind of came against one
of the biggest challenges with the Liber Primus is, there’s so much background
information that you need before you before you could
even start talking about it. – Okay, so this is the ruins– – This is the alphabet. – So this is really built
around English specifically. – Yeah, very much so. And also what we’ve been looking at is really old Friedman papers about the data. When E’s match up with
E’s, that sort of thing, which is pretty consistent
with what we’re looking at. – It’s a stream cipher. – You take someone this talented this much crypto-knowledge and show
them something like that and its just like. I don’t wanna say stonewalled but it’s a little bit what it is. We tried a lot of stuff actually too much stuff to
usually remember in a day. Like we have to go through
our notes and be like, oh yeah we tried that for like two weeks. – And all of the other things you’ve tried for the past five years. – It’s a little obsessive. – Just a little. – It kind of started to dawn on us, I guess we weren’t gonna get
so lucky as finding someone standing around at a conference who would really help
us with a breakthrough. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] Solving the Cicada puzzle requires public access
to strong encryption and the free-flow of information. These ideas flourished in the
early days of the internet at the University of California, Berkeley. That’s where I’m meeting Bill Marczak one of the leading figures
in the contemporary debate over digital rights. – So tell me about this place and what is its place in
the history of this debate? – Well right now we’re
standing in Soda Hall. This is the Computer Science
department here at UC Berkeley. And UC Berkeley was one
of the intellectual hubs of the resistance in
the first crypto wars. (dramatic music) – [Narrator] In the early
90s, the internet was a new and little understood thing but even then, scientists
could see the potential threats to privacy the governments posed. – Whenever you send and
receive electronic mail, it can be opened without your knowledge. They can look over your shoulder and see what web pages you’re visiting and what pictures you’re looking at, what political ideas
you’re being exposed to. – [Narrator] A group of
hackers began to organize, to fight for internet
privacy and digital rights. – They were graduate students, professors, staff, they call
themselves the Cypherpunks. And their desire was to create systems and platforms for encryption
and anonymous communication and make these really available. – We’re investigating Cicada. And some of the people we’ve talked to think that it could have
a link to the Cypherpunks. – Well back in the old
days, the early 90s, the way that you communicated
especially online, was you had something
called a mailing list. And anybody who sent
an email to this Alias, the message would be immediately forwarded to all of the subscribers of the list. – Who would all have
been on this mail list? – So it initially started
off with students, professors, researchers at UC Berkeley, and gradually expanded to some
people that we know today. For example Julian Assange from Wikileaks, the creator of Tor, Roger Dingledine, and others who were very instrumental in creating a lot of the tools that we use everyday to be
anonymous or to encrypt our data. The mailing list was an email
address – So you’re saying that the
principle means of communication between the most influential resisters of government interference in encryption and in privacy issues, was called Cicada? – There was a server
right here in Soda Hall, that was called While I believe in coincidences, this one seems too much to
be a coincidence, right? You’ve got this term, Cicada
used in the Cypherpunk context and then used by this group 3301, which is espousing very
much the same ideals. (calm music) – I was really glad we
got to go to DEF CON. It was a lot of fun to be
able to hang out with Nox and OneCool and I had
no idea what to expect. We worked on the Liber
Primus a little bit. We basically ran around DEF CON asking everybody we could find what they thought of this puzzle. And at first, I thought it was weird to just like run around asking
people for help with puzzles, but then people started asking us for help with their puzzles. I’m like, okay, we can
all be happy with this. Being able to walk around
and physically talk to people and see if I could get
somebody to admit to something. I didn’t honestly believe that we were going to
solve the Liber Primus. People have been working on it for years. A lot are really brilliant people with a lot of different ideas and a few people have gotten
a few pages, but nothing. It’s like the Rosetta Stone
to solving the Liber Primus. (calm music) – There aren’t a lot
of security cameras on the corners of buildings around here. – There’s that one which is unusual but– – That is weird. What do you think that’s planting down on all of the band systems? – It’s likely, yeah. Yeah there’s nothing
you can see from there besides all the countless– – Its gotta be the vent or
it’s long distance to the pool but that’s a little weird. – Nah, they wouldn’t do that. – I haven’t ever worked
on a single problem as long as I have worked on this. People might say we’re crazy but I’m just gonna work
on it, I don’t care. Once you have a problem that spans years, it’s more about perseverance
and sticking with it, than walking away. – It’s not bringing back
any memories for you? – [Peter] While the puzzles
might have been interesting, that wasn’t a particular thing that I would’ve focused on back then. (piano music) – [Narrator] The Cypherpunks
from the Berkeley main list, may have at least inspired Cicada. I’m trying to track down some
original members of the group in the hopes that they
might provide some insights. – [Peter] I was looking
at PGP and its infancy. – That is the exact
thing that’s killing us. Pete, is there any way in the world to figure out who that is behind a PGP? – [Peter] Not if they’re careful, I mean it’s sort of the same
thing as trying to figure out who owns a particular Bitcoin. – Anybody who has the kind of expertise to build this kind of thing
and might be part of Cicada. Probably, if they were
around at that time, Cypherpunks probably would
be a place they would be. The Cypherpunks manifesto, Cypherpunks will make the
internet safe for privacy. And clearly, that’s a design goal or the philosophy that they’re espousing is the individual liberty and the ability to protect one’s self. – So I guess the big question is if this really was a Cypherpunk, do you think we’d have
any chance of finding him? – Well if it really is a Cypherpunk, you’re probably not gonna find him. – Why? – Cypherpunks know how
to protect themselves. – Thanks for your time, man. – Been my pleasure.
– Buh-bye. – To solve the Liber
Primus we’ve tried a lot. (laughing) – It was my first year at DEF CON, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t necessarily expecting anybody to help us solve it like that. It was more, kind of
meeting like-minded people that really enjoy solving puzzles. – So, what should we do, go in the room? – I mean, yeah. – RoomCon? – I haven’t given up because I feel like if I give up and everybody else is
giving up, then it’s over. (door unlocking) – I might take breaks and who
knows how long that would be. After this much, it’s now, what is it, the sunk cost fallacy? That puts so much into it now that there’s no way I can
just give up on it, right? – We had a somewhat unsuccessful day looking for some outside help. – Hmm, there’s something
with my desktop manager. – What are you doing? Operation math? – I told you man, you had Wifi on when you started it up in DEF CON. And then you put the disk in it. Like you’re just asking
for– you got wrecked. – We’re a little bit down, we’re kind of questioning whether this was necessarily
the right decision and OneCool got hacked as if we kinda needed one
more thing out of that day. – We haven’t been here for like a day and you got owned by the
conference organizers. – That’s amazing though, I’m so thrilled. I was hoping one of us
would while we were here. (calm piano music) – We think criss-crossing the world from Las Vegas to London, to Berlin, to San Francisco, in our pursuit to the
mystery that is Cicada 3301. We’ve hired one of the world’s
top digital forensics firms to see if Cicada’s left behind anything like a digital fingerprint. Any trace that can reveal their identities or anything about them. Anything at all. – We have great reach into
the open deep and dark web so we’ve pulled everything
that we could find about Cicada from those sources. We then coupled out with human expertise to look through the
puzzles that were set up and look at the infrastructure behind them and maybe who’d set them up or any other identifying
information like that. What you’re seeing here is
really the volume of discussion that we’ve seen over time
about the Cicada Group. Cicada is a thing
discussed in the criminal and hacker forums, as much as
it is in the open internet. – It’s just incredible to me,
in this year of this century, you can still do something this big, get this much attention and
yet somehow stay secret? – I agree, I think that’s one of the most extraordinary
things about this. If you look at the cyber criminal groups, you’ve got things like Silk Road and most recently the Hanser Marketplace have been taken down. And those guys have millions riding on it and we’re incredibly
careful with their security. Cicada has been incredibly careful with their OPSEC, their
operational security. They haven’t given away any clues and it’s very unusual if that’s the case. When you look at these
other cyber criminals being apprehended by authorities, often they’ve left something
out there, some clue. Could be a username,
could be an email address, could be the one time
they didn’t use a VPN to obscure their IP address
when they connected. – You have to give them some credit, I mean it’s just when you
live in the concrete world, you want there to be a
concrete explanation. And so I’m ultimately frustrated and alternately in love with these guys because they can do this. I went into it thinking that everybody said it was unsolvable. And you wanna believe that you can always
solve whatever’s there. Do you actually think
that this will ever be publicly solved? – I think that’s down
to the people behind it and the motivations here. I wouldn’t hold your breath. (calm piano music) – It was our last night in Vegas. We’re in this parking lot, we’re just hearing this weird noise. – You can see the
realization dawn on Marcus and he goes, guys that’s a Cicada. – We found a Cicada. How fucking ridiculous is that? – Oh, I see it. Yeah, right up there. – To just be standing there, kinda at dusk, with these
friends I’ve made through this. He’s seeing this for the
first time, it was crazy. – I didn’t think I’d hear
Cicadas in Las Vegas. – I mean, I’m from
Canada, we don’t have any. I’ve never heard one in real life. – Mind-blown. – People do tend to say in Cicada there’s really no
such thing as a coincidence. – 2:33:01, my name is Bryan Burrough and I’m reaching out to you today as part of a multi-part
documentary series. I’m writing in hopes that you may allow us to open a line of communications through which we might seek your guidance on some of our conclusions. We would enjoy a chance to
share some of these observations with you as well, in hopes that you might shed some light on the durability of your
handiwork and the ideas behind it. It is a marvel. Thank you for your consideration, Bryan Burrough. – The single greatest
value that Cicada has had, has just been one of education. They were teaching us to
be able to do these things should we ever need to. Its not gonna suddenly turn into a world where you just can’t build
privacy software anymore. But if it does, we’ve got it covered. That’s the idea. – I want it to end but I wanna solve it. I think it’s possible. I almost feel like it’s way easier than we’ve made it out to be. So I’m gonna be embarrassed
when somebody else solves it and they’re like oh, it’s one,
two, three, four you know? – When I first joined Cicada, I was driven by the urge
to find out who they are. By now, I think that it is actually best if we never found out who they are. Magic is not as much fun if you know how the
magician does his tricks. You sometimes think, what
if there is no solution? What if this was intended
to be unsolvable? Then you can either be very frustrated because you wasted a lot of time or you can figure out
what you have learned. And sometimes I think Cicada is about the friends
you make along the way. Fuck, I did the meme line, holy shit. We’ve all kind of made each other better. Cicada puzzles have
kind of built this group of people like each other. And you kinda have to wonder if that was part of the
point the whole time? – I always enjoyed the
theory that we made it so we would have real friends. (everybody laughing) – If I had the chance to
directly speak to 3301, I would tell them thank you for
introducing me to the people that have been in my life
for the past four years. Also, you don’t wanna see
your work go to waste. You should give us a hint so that we can solve your Liber Primus because you wrote a whole book for us and you don’t want us to read it? That’s awful, don’t be assholes. Give us a hint. (dramatic music)

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  1. What if there is no code to break at all and this is just a remix competition? The instar emergence is one of the last parts of the puzzle and their anonymity and views makes them unable to do a copyright strike without contradicting themselves. hmm

  2. Since I totally got the movie Inception, I'm thinking I'll have this thing solved in a couple of hours…

  3. Didn't they say something like "the key has been in front of you since the beginning"? Maybe it's literally true, what was the very first "key"?

  4. What about the frequency of the cicada sound it makes? Or how much it makes the sound in 1 min. Or reach out to all the students that were at Harvard when that server came online?

  5. Four videos totaling over an hour with a title of "Cracking the Code of Cicada 3301" and it ends with nothing more that is started. Our time would have been better spent figuring out what you couldn't.

  6. Imagine they are the creators of Cicada 3301 and only act like this to make us never think about them being the creators. I mean, they act like they care about their privacy so much, checking cameras, getting all paranoid, yet they accepted to be interviewed, knowing now millions will know about them.

  7. How to solve for x
    The key has always been right in front of your eyes. L u x
    If you don't have eyes…. your in the dark

  8. I feel like all of these people need to microdose on LSD and then look at the 58 pages and see what they come up with.

  9. Interesting how you guys are still stuck on this. I don't think you'll like being successful in decoding it.

  10. I'm really glad I didn't just waste an hour of my life watching a youtube series and instead skipped to the ending of the last video to find the ussual "The world may never know answer"

  11. Average people: clicks on episode 1 because it looked interesting and leaves in the middle because it gets complicated and boring

    Not easily bored people: makes it through first video and leaves in middle of the second video because it gets really complicated and really boring

    People who makes it to third video is most likely going to make it to the fourth video because they are either intelligent or they have a lot of time on their hands

  12. I really appreciate what this documentary eludes to being the motivation behind Liber Primus at 18:31. Its unsolvable in a way that educates, inspires, and unites. The way I see it: Liber Primus is designed to pump out hundreds of self sufficient cells or cicada as a fail safe for oppressive governing power. Cicada develop underground hidden from predators and eventually rise in masses, overwhelming predators.

  13. all this stuff about encryption and security, but ultimately the pages of liber primus aren't about that. they're about transcendence of the soul. the only code that's being cracked is that of reality itself. it's knowledge that can lead some to psychosis and others to enlightenment.

  14. What if the runes shouldnt be translated to english but in to another language like swedish, norwegin, islandic where the runes first orginated from

  15. Im dissapointed 13:16

    56 packages can be updated
    3 updates are security updates

    I knew he's not good with computers as soon as I noticed ubuntu logo.

  16. I've tried my hand at waaaaaayyyyyyyyy simpler stuff in the same direction and couldn't do it without my friends. To think that these guys did this kind of stuff for YEARS and without ever giving up out of frustration is fascinating

  17. I will start backward… probably in this book will have some word as privacy, liberty, information and so one. Finally, this remembers a long deep quantum paradox we have in quantum mechanics about the black box.
    well, if you want other ideas, contact physics (like me) to have a better idea

  18. That book reminds me of Elder Scrolls Oblivion style. There was a quest where you had to used red symbols and put them together

  19. What about a brute force method? Build a digital machine that can brute force it like what was done with enigma. You might crack only a page or two with this method, but perhaps this method gives some clue to the rest of the puzzle.
    I'd go about it by building an enigma machine similar to how Code Bullet on YT did, then build machine to counter it. You can try to modify the machine to attack these runes.
    Another idea is computer learning. Again, I'd talk with Code Bullet about building a program that would gather the data of the first two solved pages, then apply the learned information to the unsolved pages. Again, I'd expect maybe one or two more pages, but maybe one or two pages is what you need to get progress.

  20. That was a really well done documentary, a true piece of art. We need more high quality standards when it comes to documenting cypher punks and cyber punks in general.
    Thanks for sharing.

  21. Is there any way that the documents with the findings from the forensics firm could be released to the public?

    I'm sure there's nothing mindblowing in it but still feel like it'd would be interesting to read through it.

  22. I was expecting someone largely overweight with a jelly donut stain on their shirt to say "why does this page tell have an email address in it?" or something revealing

  23. Figure out who named the server cicada and go near places they would have worked and listen for cicadas because he might named it that or be using that as a label for things because he allways g
    Hears them when he works.

  24. I don't know if this was mentioned in the video but the rune puzzle is the same runes as JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit.

  25. I've been on the LP for four years now. Pretty much alone. This was a decent story. Thanks for sharing. The big players need help. Shows like this get fresh minds involved. There will be young ones coming up that can help us. thanks again.

  26. @Great Big Story As someone looking at this from an outside perspective, has anyone dug deeper into the song that that was hidden in an earlier puzzle to something mentioned in one of the decrypted pages? The 'key' that has been right in front of them could refer to a musical key. I found it interesting that the name of the song showed up in one of the pages they decrypted.

  27. these people are trying to solve one of the most complex and hardest puzzle while im over here a mile or two away from the strip, watching these videos.

  28. Have you guys ever considered that the unsolved bits of runes were in Latin?
    I wanted to work on it with my stepfather for a LOOOONG time. He took Latin and is quite fluent, even translating what I say.
    All I need to do is convince him to help, maybe, just MAYBE we could do that. Especially with his coding experience in Microsoft.
    Unfortunately, I don't talk to him much anymore and I don't know if he would want to get involved with the deep dark web or anything.
    I dunno
    I'm geeking out too much.
    Sorry folks.

  29. Watch it be something really simple like they had to do a google search or each black pixel is a one and a white pixel is a 0 lol

  30. The Cicada- one of the most abundant insects in the world. They produce a distinct sound that is both well known and easily overlooked. They come in various shapes, sizes, colors. They are everywhere, yet nowhere.

  31. Man i will never be as talented as these people but hope to meet them someday and all the power to them in getting it solved someday

  32. Im confused. Isn't one of those guys already a 'member' of cicada after he solved the previous puzzle? And as a member he doesn't know whose behind it all? Seems kinda shit.

  33. A bunch of Clout Chasing Fags who failed but act like super human heros. Makes me sick, get a job u losers.

  34. Maybe the symbols are a burds eye view of some town or street or maybe alot of different locations leading to the main one

  35. 3301 saying that the answer is the “Libre Primus” leads me to believe something about the name is important. A quick google translate says that “Libre Primus” means “first book”. I’m not a genius and I’m sure people have tried some approach with this but sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes and a brand new simple idea to spark something so if anyone can draw any conclusions from that I hope it helps

  36. This has been fascinating! Really gets the imagination going. Makes me wish I had a big puzzle like this that I could solve without cryptology or deep coding skills.

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