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Cicada 3301: An Internet Mystery

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Cicada 3301

On the 4th of January, 2012, a user on 4chan posted an image to the site’s infamous /b/ or random board. The anonymous author, who went by the four-digit pseudonym 3301, challenged users to uncover a message hidden within the image.

Unbeknownst to those who stumbled across it, someone had just set in motion one of the most elaborate scavengers hunts the internet has ever seen. Within minutes of the image being posted someone discovered that by opening the file using a text editor an appended string of readable text could be found. The string contained a cipher that, once deciphered, formed a link to yet another image.

At first, this appeared to be a dead end but using an application known as Outguess users were able to extract hidden information embedded within the first image. The extracted information lead to a subreddit which in turn contained information about a book.

The book along with a code could then be used to uncover a phone number that, when called, played a pre-recorded message. By the following day, the initial image had been reposted all over the internet. A growing community of armchair detectives sought to unravel this elaborate puzzle but no one was quite sure what to make off it. What was the puzzle for? Who was behind it? What happens when you reach the end?

Some naturally dismissed it as an elaborate joke while others perceived its complexity as evidence against it being the work of a mere troll. Before long, rumors began to circulate that this could be the work of some secret society or intelligence agency with the intent of recruiting individuals proficient in cryptography, steganography, and other related fields. Of course, it was nothing but a rumor. The two missing numbers mentioned in the recording proved to be the dimensions of the original image. After multiplying the width and height with 3301 and using the product as a web address, users were taken to a website. The website consisted of a countdown as well as an image of a cicada.

When the countdown reached zero, the page was updated with a list of coordinates.

The coordinates pointed to locations around the globe. 14 locations in 5 different countries. It was now up to participants living near the specified coordinates to rise from their comfortable armchairs and venture outside. Those who believed Cicada to be the work of an organization now felt their beliefs had been justified. In their opinion, only some international collective possessed the means and resources to create a scavenger hunt of this magnitude. This was not the work of your average troll.  No, this had to be something else. At each location was a poster with the cicada symbol and a QR code. …on the bike shelter over here. See I got it… I got it right there.

You can see the corners, I just kinda ripped it off. The codes linked to an image, the image contained a riddle, the riddle lead to a book, and the book leads to a website.

But here, the puzzle took an unexpected turn. Only a select group of first arrivals to this website were accepted into the final stage of the puzzle. The site eventually closed down with the message: “We want the best, not the followers.” The finalists were also warned not to collaborate with others nor to share the details of this private stage of the puzzle. Well, given that we know this, it’s safe to say that not everyone heeded that warning. But those who did presumably advanced through the final stages before reaching the very end of the puzzle.

Puzzle 2

After nearly a month of silence, an image appeared on the subreddit announcing the conclusion of the puzzle and, just like that, the hunt was over. Cicada had supposedly found the “highly intelligent individuals” they were looking for and whatever happened to them is a bit of a mystery but more on that in a moment. The lack of an explanation was perceived by many as confirmation that the puzzle had been nothing but a wild-goose chase intent on wasting everyone’s time. After all, questions raised by the original image remained unanswered. What was the puzzle for? Who was behind it? What happens when you reach the end?

However, as it later turned out, this was only the beginning. Whoever was behind this intricate game had the foresight to include an authentication code known as a PGP signature along with every clue. This allowed users to verify that an image or message was actually from Cicada as opposed to some impostor seeking to derail or hijack the puzzle. Cicada had repeatedly warned of such “false paths” and insisted that any message lacking a valid PGP signature should promptly be disregarded. That’s why this image, posted exactly a year and a day after the first, provoked such a frenzy. After a year of lackluster imitations, this image finally matched the official PGP signature. Cicada was back and it was time for round two.

The second puzzle was not too dissimilar from the first. The image enclosed a message, the message lead to a book, the book produced a link, and gradually the puzzle unfolded. At one point, a recording titled The Instar Emergence was uncovered.

Another clue leads to a cryptic Twitter account which then leads to an image. The image proved vital to the progression of the puzzle but the inclusion of this runic alphabet would remain a mystery for quite some time. Much like the first puzzle the second swelled into the physical world when a list coordinates compelled participants to, once again, take to the streets in search of enigmatic posters. This time it was 8 locations in 4 different countries. But eventually, the trail went cold once again.

Another select group of first arrivals had been accepted into a final private stage of the puzzle. Unlike the first puzzle, the second did not conclude with an official message from Cicada. The trail merely went cold and Cicada vanished once more leaving us no closer to an explanation. However, this was still not the end.

Puzzle 3

At the beginning of 2014, it was time for round three. Once again the image enclosed a message, the message leads to a book, the book produced a link, and suffice it to say, it was more of the same. Except, this time, the puzzle seemed to revolve around a strange book. The book was titled Liber Primus, meaning First Book in Latin, and was evidently written by Cicada. The runic alphabet uncovered in 2013 finally made sense as the book was primarily written in runes. Even so, the meaning of the translated pages was cryptic at best. The book consisted of various philosophical and ideological ideas and appeared to be their manifesto.

Many have since compared the strange writings to that of a cult. Nevertheless, the book also comprised a myriad of clues and codes. For example, a page advised participants to seek out a website on the deep web but the site remains undiscovered. Another page leads to a website containing yet another recording titled Interconnectedness. However, a significant portion of the book has yet to be translated. The runic text on some of the pages appears to be obfuscated by layers of encryption that has yet to be decrypted.

Of the 74 pages featuring runes, only 19 have been successfully translated.

As 2015 came and went without the launch of a new puzzle, many came to suspect the Liber Primus had to be completed if Cicada was to return. This was more or less confirmed at the beginning of 2016 when Cicada encouraged a re-examination of the book.

More than four years have now gone by with minimal progress and near complete silence from Cicada. Questions raised by the original image have gone ignored. What is the purpose of these puzzles? Who’s behind them? What happens when you reach the end? When the initial image appeared on 4chan back in 2012 many assumed Cicada 3301 to be an alternate reality game designed by a corporation to promote a new service or product. For example, Microsoft developed an elaborate ARG back in 2001 to promote the film Artificial Intelligence and a similar viral marketing campaign was used to promote the release of Halo 2.

But the release of subsequent puzzles and the complete lack of commercialization has more or less eliminated that possibility. If we choose to believe some of the leaked information from the private end-stage of each puzzle than we do gain some insight into who this group might be. For example, at the end of the first puzzle, finalists supposedly received this email. In it, Cicada describes themselves as an international group who believe that privacy is an inalienable right. The aim of each puzzle is to recruit like-minded individuals in an effort to develop privacy-conscious solutions. The email then concludes with three questions.

The PGP signature, which would have confirmed the authenticity of the email, was conveniently removed by the leaker. If a version with a valid signature does exist online I was unable to find it. But regardless of its legitimacy, I find this question a bit odd. It reads: “Do you believe that information should be free?” Assuming the expected answer is yes then the very first sentence…


Also Read: Story of Alibaba

“DO NOT SHARE THIS INFORMATION!” …seems a bit hypocritical. While the idea of a secret society recruiting individuals by means of elaborate cryptographic puzzles may seem a bit absurd or even conspiratorial, it’s not entirely unfounded. Corporations and governments alike have employed similar recruitment techniques since at least the second World War. In 2013, the British intelligence agency GCHQ launched a recruitment program known as “Can You Find It?”.

Participants had to decrypt a number of cryptograms hidden across the internet and those who managed to solve the entire puzzle were offered a prize or a position at the agency. Google did something similar with enigmatic billboards back in 2004 and the US Navy launched a near-identical project in 2014. Okay, but then, what about the recruits? Why have we not heard from these chosen few? Well, we have. It’s just that separating a legitimate finalist from an impostor is virtually impossible.

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, two alleged winners of the first puzzle chronicled the events beyond the final stage. After receiving an email from Cicada they were taken to a forum on the dark web. Here, they could communicate with some twenty some odd recruits as well as a handful of established members of Cicada. They were told that Cicada 3301 had been founded by a group of friends who shared common ideas about security, privacy, and censorship.

The goal was to work as a collective to develop software applications in line with that ideology. As friends recruited friends, this secret society quickly expanded into a decentralized international organization. The recruits were then tasked with developing software that fit the ideology of the group and members of Cicada would oversee their progress. But without the allure of a puzzle to be solved, the recruits quickly lost interest. By the end of 2012 all but one had left and a few months later the site was gone. They never heard from Cicada again. One of the two winners, named Marcus Wanner, later elaborated further in a video by YouTuber Nox Populi.

Furthermore, Nox Populi himself claims to be a winner of the second puzzle so I reached out to him and this is some of what he had to say. After completing the final stages of the second puzzle Nox Populi received an invitation to join Cicada 3301. However, he was not invited to a website but was instead merely told to be patient. Then, around May of 2013, all communication with Cicada abruptly ceased.


Also Read: Do you Dream? Why? – Explained 

This was around the same time as when the website dedicated to the winners of the first puzzle was suddenly taken down. Nox Populi later contacted other winners of the second puzzle to compare notes and their experiences were identical. In his own words: “All the stories were the same, we were invited to join 3301, then something happened and silence followed a request for patience.” Nox Populi supposes that roughly five others completed the second puzzle in contrast to the twenty-odd winners of the first. In regards to who or what Cicada is, Nox Populi believes they could be a remnant of the cypherpunk movement of the late 80s and 90s.

Essentially a small group of activists advocating widespread use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies but he admits that there is no way to know for certain. If you want a far more comprehensive walkthrough of these puzzles as opposed to my brief overview, Nox Populi has produced a number of videos on his YouTube channel which I highly recommend. While these accounts cannot be verified they do make for a very compelling argument as to what Cicada is. A group of anonymous developers seeking to develop privacy-conscious applications by recruiting talented individuals via cryptographic puzzles. Sure, it is not nearly as exciting as a shadow government seeking world domination or any of the more fantastical theories but it is certainly more plausible.

You have to keep in mind that no part of these puzzles would have required more than one person. The posters are often pointed to as evidence that this must be the work of some international organization but I beg to differ. I mean, right now, I could use any number of services to hire random persons around the globe to install posters for me.

Although, given that no poster was located more than an hour away from an airport leads me to believe that one or multiple persons actually traveled to these locations. I mean, some of the posters were found within walking distance of an international airport. The fact is that anyone with a disposable income and enough time on their hands would be able to create the illusion of a vast secret network spanning the globe. Not saying that is the case with Cicada 3301 but it is nonetheless a possibility that cannot be discounted. With all of that being said, I personally think a loose-knit group of privacy-minded hobby-cryptographers to be the most plausible explanation.

Cicada made their last public statement in April of 2017, merely warning against disinformation, but the current status of the third puzzle and the possibility of a fourth remains clouded in mystery.

 

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What is Flipkart?

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What is Flipkart?

Flipkart is India’s Amazon. It’s the country’s largest online retailer. In 2018 retail giant Walmart announced its intention to acquire a controlling stake in the company for $16 billion, making this the largest e-commerce acquisition, ever.

Flipkart was founded here in Bangalore in 2007 by Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, two Indian software engineers, that happen to share the same surname. They both worked for Amazon in the U.S. before returning to India to start their company.

Like Amazon, Flipkart began as an online bookstore. In its first full year of business, it delivered nearly three and half thousand shipments of books. Now its website has 10 million page visits a day and sells more than 80 different categories of goods, which includes everything from food processors to yoga mats.

This expansion has been supported by the company’s own digital ecosystem. In 2009 it founded Ekart, its in-house supply chain arm.

Ekart is now India’s largest logistics company delivering 10 million shipments a month for Flipkart, as well as independent brands and sellers. It also owns PhonePe, an app the company acquired in 2016, which helps facilitate electronic payments throughout the country. In addition, Flipkart’s purchase of two of India’s leading online fashion retailers, Myntra and Jabong ensured the company remained the leading player in India’s online retail industry.

Flipkart’s strong position in the market attracted $1.4 billion of investment in 2017 from the Indian e-commerce market as a whole is set to quadruple to $200 billion in the next eight years, and by 2034 it’s predicted to surpass the U.S. as the second largest e-commerce market in the world.

The predicted growth in e-commerce has increased competition between the big online retailers. Amazon has been taking on Flipkart in its own backyard. Both have been offering massive sales and discounts pegged to Indian festivals as they battle it out for more customers.

While Amazon’s size and profitable cloud computing service allows it to absorb these costs, Flipkart has suffered losses in its struggle to compete. However, the Flipkart Group as a whole still has the largest share of the market and remains the e-commerce leader in India.

Walmart’s online sales, however, account for just a little more than three and a half percent of its business in the U.S. Acquiring Flipkart gives them a considerable foothold in the sector. Yet when news of the deal broke, the American retailer’s shares tumbled four percent with investors concerned that the company had a long way to go before becoming profitable. The acquisition of a loss-making business also cut Walmart’s profits at the end of 2018 and its earnings outlook for 2019.

Walmart Acquiring Flipkart

Walmart Acquiring Flipkart | Image Courtesy: YourStory

The company also warned that e-commerce growth would be slower next year. For Flipkart, Walmart’s investment is seen by many as a major boost to the company’s logistical operations. It will also help it move into new areas like online groceries. Along with a strong food supply chain, Walmart’s financial support will also help Flipkart keep prices low in its battle with Amazon.

Several key investors have exited the company, including co-founder Sachin Bansal, and they leave with hefty profits. Venture capital firms Accel and Tiger Global invested when Flipkart was valued at just $50 million. They have now pocketed more than 400 times what they invested and still retain some shares.

Softbank is also a big beneficiary of the deal. Its Vision Fund invested $2.5 billion in 2017 and in just over 12 months the Japanese company sold its 20% stake for $4 billion.

Co-founder Binny Bansal had planned to stay on as the company’s chief executive but resigned after an internal investigation into serious personal misconduct following an accusation of sexual assault. He still owns 4.2% of the company and remains a director on the board. Amid the controversy Walmart increased its stake in the $20 billion company from 77 percent to 81.3 percent, offering another sign of its support of an online retail market that is still small by global standards.

The value and sale of Flipkart to a major corporation like Walmart will likely encourage investors to see India’s e-commerce market as an area of growth. Already the Indian startup Ola is competing fiercely with Uber in the taxi aggregation market and both have Softbank as a major shareholder.

As the world’s major tech companies focus more of their attention on India, Flipkart may be the first of many start-up success stories emerging from the growing e-commerce space.

So, do you think Flipkart has a chance against Amazon? Comment below to let us know.

Source: CNBC International
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Why Windows Phone Failed

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Why Widows Phone failed
 Windows Phone: a product with so much potential that had everything going for it, and yet one that failed spectacularly. Despite the billions of dollars and the priceless connections of Microsoft, the Windows Phone never took off and would go down in history as one of Microsoft’s most expensive mistakes.
We’re gonna look at the reasons behind its failure and the actions Microsoft could’ve taken to possibly prevent it.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007 he took the smartphone world by storm. Up until then, smartphones had a big problem: they had small screens with interfaces that were hard to navigate, and the reason for that was because half of the phone was occupied by a keyboard with tiny buttons you could hardly press with any precision at all.
Apple unvield iPhone in 2007

Apple unveiled iPhone in 2007

What Steve Jobs showed to his ecstatic audience was a game changer, but it wasn’t just Apple fans there were watching. The engineers at Google, which for the past two years had been building a smartphone of their own, had to scrap their entire project and to start over with a touchscreen design. Their final product, Android, would arrive more than a year later, at which point the iPhone had taken the smartphone crown.
The iPhone’s model was built on exclusivity: it was entirely produced by Apple to establish maximal control over the user experience and the quality of the product, which allowed Apple to charge a premium for their phones.
To succeed Android would have to adopt a different strategy: instead of going for exclusivity, Google tried to be everyone’s friend, partnering up with as many phone manufacturers as possible with the selling point of their phones being the fact that they were cheap, yet functional.
For a time, the smartphone world was in balance, with Android and the iPhone occupying very distinct segments of
the market. And yet, this balance would soon be disturbed by another tech giant, Microsoft.
Now, out of the three companies, it was actually Microsoft that had the most experience with mobile devices.
Back in 1996, Bill Gates unveiled what he called the handheld PC, which was really more of a tiny laptop. The operating system it ran was known as Windows CE, which was basically Windows 3 modified to function on the lowest specifications possible.
Over the next decade, Microsoft would add features and develop this product line extensively, making another 6 full releases. Between 2006 and 2008 Microsoft’s mobile devices claimed a 15% market share, greater than any of their competitors except Symbian by Nokia.
But this success is exactly what blinded Microsoft to threat of the iPhone.
When Steve Ballmer, the CEO of Microsoft at the time was asked about the iPhone his reaction, he was like that iPhones don’t have keyboards which will not make them good email machine. Also said that $500 for iPhone is not customer friendly.
When he was asked “How do you compete with iPhone?”, he replied ” Right now we’re selling millions and millions and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones a year.”
We can clearly see the stark difference between the two men: the reporter very clearly sees the innovations
of the iPhone as a threat to the old smartphone establishment, but Microsoft’s CEO can barely look past the sales numbers. And just in case you’re thinking he’s an exception, the CEOs of Blackberry and Palm were equally skeptical of the new iPhone.
It took Microsoft a full year of declining market share to finally realize that something had to be done. Unlike Microsoft, Blackberry’s sales were still increasing, which gave them a sense of confidence they never recovered from.
Now, as they say, it’s better late than never and when Microsoft finally got around to it, their development was actually pretty fast.
Microsoft began developing a touchscreen-based mobile device in late 2008 and it took them only two years to get it ready for market. What Steve Ballmer unveiled was indeed a very unique product whose advancement of smartphone design isn’t really widely recognized, but it should be. At a time when the iPhone and Android were stuck with static icons, the Windows Phone gave you tiles with live information.

Microsoft unveiled first Windows phone in 2010 at MWC

Overall, critics had much to praise: in terms of design the Windows Phone user experience was right up there next to Apple and because Microsoft had very strict requirements for the hardware used by phone manufacturers, all of the early Windows Phones were very powerful machines for their time. And yet, Microsoft ran into a big problem very early on.
Microsoft was trying to do something very difficult: it was emulating Apple in trying to establish strict control over the user experience and hardware, but unlike Apple, it wasn’t actually making its own phones. This approach made the Windows Phone a very refined product, but the degree of control Microsoft wanted to be made working with them much more difficult for phone manufacturers compared to working with Android.
Unsurprisingly, most phone manufacturers decided to partner up with Google, which left Microsoft in a very bad position: it had a great product and no one to make it. The only saving grace for Microsoft was a lucky connection: when Nokia replaced their CEO in September 2010, the new guy, Stephen Elop, was a former Microsoft executive and the first item on his agenda was to try to restore Nokia’s declining market share by abandoning Symbian and pivoting towards Windows Phone.
Now, you can tell that this was a very premeditated plan because of this massive transition, during which Nokia completely changed their product offerings, happened in the span of a single year. Nokia started selling their first Windows Phone in November 2011 and I can tell you right away that this was possible thanks to the billions of dollars Microsoft poured into Nokia as “platform support payments”.
Nokia was supposedly paying Microsoft a licensing fee, but in reality, it was actually getting $250 million back from Microsoft every quarter, which more than made up for their expenses. Of course, the other phone manufacturers knew that this was happening, which pushed them even farther away from Microsoft.
After all, why would they fund their own development and pay a licensing fee to Microsoft, when Nokia was getting it all for free?
Effectively, Microsoft had gone all in with Nokia and there was no going back. But sadly for Microsoft, it was far too late. By the time Microsoft solved its production issue, four years after the introduction of the iPhone, it had fallen to a 2% market share. Nobody was developing applications for the Windows Phone and why would they, considering that Android and iOS were clearly the winners here.
For its first three years, the Windows Phone App Store was empty: it didn’t have Instagram, it didn’t have YouTube, it barely had anything. By 2013 the stock price of Nokia had fallen by 75% at which point angry shareholders were threatening to just fire Stephen Elop and get rid of Microsoft altogether.
In the end, that didn’t happen, Microsoft instead just purchased Nokia’s mobile phone division for $7.2 billion in 2014. Here’s the funny thing though: the very next year Microsoft wrote off their investment for $7.6 billion, and then to top things off they fired almost 8,000 employees. Microsoft kept Windows Phone on life support until October 2017, but it was clearly dead a long time before that.
And yet, it’s easy to imagine the different path Windows Phone could’ve taken had it only not been as greedy with its original philosophy. Had Microsoft been willing to compromise on its control over production, it would’ve
easily convinced the big manufacturers to use Windows Phone instead of Android.
After all back then Google had practically no ecosystem to speak of, while Microsoft had been a software titan for decades.
This was how the Windows Phone ran the path for its downfall.
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WhatsApp CEO to visit India again in October end for Fake News issues

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WhatsApp Fake news @newsbooklet

WhatsApp CEO Chris Daniels has planned to make his second trip to India in three months to help the Government Officials of India to find out the root cause of the Spreading Fake News all around the Country via social Media Platform WhatsApp.

A delegation of WhatsApp officials along with the company’s global policy head Christine Turner with Daniels will visit India to meet with Government Officials at Prime Minister’s Office and the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY).

It is reported that the delegation will be arriving on 24th of October, Wednesday.

During the Visit, CEO Chris Daniels is expected to meet the designated authorities on wide range of issues but the main focus would be rather on the data encryption and data sharing. Government of India has asked WhatsApp to find out ways to catch the origin of fake Messages and news, but things would not be that easy. As because WhatsApp runs on end-to-end Encryption.

Government requested WhatsApp to figure out the way to find alternative to find the solution and stop the unnecessary fake news to spread in a larger audience.

CEO chris daniels with Govenment Officials

Visit in August | Image Courtesy: Digit

Lately Fake news over WhatsApp has been leading to very bad condition of Mob lynching in some parts of the country.

Earlier when CEO Chris Daniels visited India for the First time, he was asked to appoint a grievance officer and set up a corporate entity in India to tackle the wide spreading of Fake news all over the Country. Also government demanded for a system to be developed for tracing the origin of fake News.

On demand Chris appointed a grievance officer to look upon the complains of fake messages all over the country. But data sharing and tracing the origin of the fake messages would not be that easy as mentioned earlier, although Indian Government stating “It’s not a rocket science”.

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