Cracking the Code of Cicada 3301 investigates the secret online group calling themselves 3301, otherwise known to the public as Cicada 3301.
The group posted a set of puzzles to recruit codebreakers and linguists from the public in 2012. Since then, Cicada 3301 have shared three major puzzles with the public, the latest from 2014 has still not been solved.
What was the purpose of the puzzles? No one knows, but many set out to solve one of the internet’s greatest mysteries.
Episode one follows the young cryptographers on 4-chan who first heard of Cicada 3301.
Candidates had to prove their skills in codebreaking, cryptography and computer programming by solving a complex puzzle dubbed Cicada. It required knowledge of steganography, contacts on the ground everywhere from Seoul to Sydney, and the ability to obtain a copy of William Gibson’s famous disappearing poem “Agrippa.”
But the Cicada challenge didn’t end there. Suddenly, more mysterious codes appeared—including a 58-page book of runes known as the “Liber Primus.”
In episode two, a band of online collaborators—Marcus Wanner, Nox Populi, OneCool, Brother Box and Shadow Walker—try to decode the “Liber Primus,” a 58-page book of runes that is key to solving Cicada.
They’re in need of new ideas. Journalist Bryan Burrough goes to London to learn how England’s cryptographers decrypted messages the Germans were sending during World War II.
Back in the U.S., OneCool learns about legendary codebreaker William Friedman’s methods from cryptography history expert and former NSA historian Craig Bauer; and Nox Populi seeks wisdom from cryptologist Elonka Dunin, who urges him and his friends to dig into the psychology of whoever created Cicada. She also poses a big question—what if there is no answer?
In episode three, Marcus Wanner reveals he worked on a secret project with 3301 after he solved the original puzzle. It was a tool whistleblowers and others living in fear could use to distribute information on the internet without being traced.
But the plug was pulled just a few months before NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures in 2013. Coincidence? Or not?
Meanwhile, at home in Alberta, Canada, Nox Populi is keeping an eye on a van that has been parked outside his house for a full month. Is someone spying on him?
Shadow Walker can’t show her face. But she allows us to meet with her at an undisclosed location in the Middle East, where she teaches people how to protect their privacy online and in real life when she isn’t working on Cicada.
In our final episode, Marcus Wanner and OneCool travel to Las Vegas where they meet Canadian Nox Populi in person for the first time.
The trio attend the DevCon Hacking Conference and pick brains hoping to find someone, anyone who can help them crack Liber Primus. They’re getting that desperate.
Elsewhere, journalist Bryan Burrough’s investigation into the origin of Cicada takes him to the University of California at Berkeley to talk to Bill Marczak. The postdoctoral researcher specializes in internet privacy and digital rights. UC Berkeley was the birthplace of the cypherpunks movement in the early 1990s. These hackers wrote code to defend digital privacy back in the day. Could there be a tie to Cicada?
- Release date2019
- Full runtime
- Director(s)Andrew Cagle
- Part of the seriesGreat Big Story
- Production companyRoadside Entertainment