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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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Huawei Matebook 13: Macbook Air killer

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Matebook 13

Huawei’s Matebook X which was released last year was considered as the MacBook Pro killer as it provided a lot of features which the MacBook Pro provided at a much affordable price. And this year, Huawei is back with Huawei Matebook 13 which offers specification between the ultra-slim Matebook X and the pocket-friendly Matebook D.

MateBook 13

With Matebook 13’s premium Aluminum alloy and metal unibody finish, Intel Whiskey lake processor and thin bezel display, it can be clearly observed as a competitor for the Apple’s new 2018 MacBook Air. The release took place at CES 2019. Let’s have a closer look at the details of Matebook 13.

Starting with the display, it has 13-inch 3:2 touchscreen display which is super sharp with 2,160 x 1,440 resolution. Display provides rich colors with ample viewing angles. Taking a look towards the bezels, company says they are 4.4mm thin providing 88 percent screen to body ratio which is 6 percent more than the rivals MacBook Air with 82 percent screen to body ratio.

Moving to the keyboard, Matebook 13 offers a bigger touchpad than usual which will help you with better space and provide the rich user experience. Matebook 13 comes with an edge-to-edge comfortable keyboard with a 1.2mm travel between each key which is efficient to provide smooth and fast typos which makes it a thumbs up for those who hate Macbook Air’s low-travel keyboard although it is also pretty good. The keycaps barely come out and are not too loud or clicky. It has embedded fingerprint sensor on the power button which makes it easier to wake the computer up by just scanning the finger. With fingerprint sensors come to the security and to enhance it, Huawei has provided an independent security chip for storing the biometrics.

Huawei Matebook 13

Let’s have a look over the heart of the machine. The Matebook 13 is very capable machine in terms of processing. The device will have two configurations in the US. The higher-end version packs in eight-generation Intel Core i7-8565U chipset coupled with NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card, on the other hand, low-end version ships with Intel Core i5 and Intel’s UHD620 graphics. Both the versions of Matebook 13 will have 8GB of RAM which will be standard considering the price range. The Matebook 13 having quad-core will be having a good multitasking ability which will be a serious upgrade than the MacBook Air which includes a dual-core processor.

Although providing the great performance the weight and thickness of the device matters a lot. The Matebook 13 comes with a 14.9mm thickness which company says is 6 percent thinner than the 2k18 MacBook Air which has 15.9mm thickness. Although the Matebook 13 is thinner than the MacBook Air, it weighs 2.82 pounds which is heavier than the 2.75 pounds MacBook Air.

The Matebook 13 has squeezed a lot of powerful chipsets in such a small device which they mention is due to Shark Fin 2.0 thermal setup which has the capability to handle 8,000 rpm without overheating the device. Huawei has provided dual fan system placing them between the CPU and GPU which enables to separate the heat and also accomplish 25 percent higher volume than a traditional fan. The company also says that cooling system uses an “intelligent filtering solution” which is claimed to manage performance and reduce the fan noise.

Huawei also praised the Shark Fin 2.0 setup for helping them to dedicate almost 50 percent of the laptops underhood space to embed massive 42Whr battery but it is bit smaller as compared to the 57Whr battery of Macbook Air. According to the Huawei’s claim, the low-end version, which is Core i5 Matebook 13, will last up to 10 hours while playing a 1080p video which will be great if it is able to hold on its words.

matebook13

Image Courtesy: Paul Thurrott

Following the previous models of Matebooks, the Matebook 13 also comes with two USB-C ports and one headphone jack. But Huawei has included a dock which places in USB – A port, USB-C port, VGA and HDMI port as well. Webcams are important for the video conferences and to help with it, the Matebook 13 houses a one-megapixel camera into its bezel, which makes it at a better place as compared to Matebook X Pro which hid the webcam under one of the keys in the keyboard.

With a webcam you also need good speakers to make the video conferences lively and to do so, the Matebook 13 has two speakers docked into the keyboard with Dolby support giving out the crisp and clear sound.

Huawei also provides a 65W USB-C power adapter which can be used for fact charging the laptop. The Matebook 13 is claimed to provide 2.5 hours of “office work” which may include working with spreadsheets, emails, internet surfing etc. when charged for 15 minutes.

At last, if we list the highs of the device it will go as follows:

  • High performance with Whiskey Lake processor
  • Efficient design making is slim and light
  • High screen to body ratio
  • Affordable price

The Matebook 13 truly looks a well-built laptop to compete with Apple Macbook Air. The base version of Matebook 13 which includes Core i5 with 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM will be available in Silver color and will cost $999 and the higher end version with Core i7 with NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics and 512GB SSD will start from $1,299. The Matebook 13 will be on sale from January 29 on Amazon and Newegg.

 

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WhatsApp will not work in this Old Phones.

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Whatsapp on Nokia S40

The Facebook-owned worlds most popular instant messaging app have announced that it will discontinue their support for certain Old Mobile phones and Operating Systems. Whatsapp support would end for certain mobile Operating Systems after 31st December 2018 (today).

Earlier Whatsapp have stopped there services on the smartphones like Nokia Symbian S60, BlackBerry OS, BlackBerry 10, and Windows Phone 8.0 OS. And Now there are stopping services for the Devices which runs on Nokia S40.

Last Year, Whatsapp had being stopped working on the Devices like BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry OS, Nokia Symbian S60, Windows Phone 8.0, Nokia S40, Android versions 2.3.7 and older, iPhone iOS 7 and older.

To recall, the Nokia S40 was one the most popular smart feature phone a few years back, but after acquisition by Microsoft the OS lost its existence.

The reason for not further supporting this OS was the Simple and straight answer from the Whatsapp team. “Tech Industry is going way fast and newer Smartphones are evolved and developed every year. And to make Whatsapp compliant for the Latest Devices, we need to modify new Feature and Old OS is not able to support our updates and so we are discontinuing support for this Devices”.


Also Read: Why Windows Phone Failed?

Some of the Devices of Nokia which are running on Nokia S40 OS are Nokia Asha 201, Nokia Asha 205, Nokia Asha 210, Nokia Asha 230, Nokia Asha 500, Nokia Asha 501, Nokia Asha 502, Nokia Asha 503, Nokia 206, Nokia 208, Nokia 301, Nokia 515. So this all phones will not be able to use Whatsapp for Messaging there loved ones now onwards.

Nokia S40

The Support for these devices was supposed to be discontinued earlier from June this year, but Whatsapp extended till December, bringing some relief to Nokia S40 users. However, the devices running Android 2.3.7 Gingerbread and older version will be ending WhatsApp support after February 1, 2020.

Well, this would not affect a Massive number of people as Nokia S40 OS is extremely old, first unveiled in 1999, updated in 2005 and the latest mobile device that was Nokia 515 was unveiled in 2013. About 0.3 percent of the Android smartphones are running Android Gingerbread platform.

People who are affected with this notice may opt for the feature phones like JioPhone, JioPhone 2, Nokia 8110 4G, as they provide support for Whatsapp on KaiOS.

React your Thoughts in the Comment section Below and tell us, are you affected with this Decision from Whatsapp.

Stay Tunned with for more such interesting News and Facts around the World. 😊

 

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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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