Apparently there’s a group of those paranoid information-wants-to-be-free jackoffs who’ve been watching too many spy thrillers to the point where they invented their own conspiracy. Basically, the leave cryptographic “clues” around the internet, hook obsessive nerdy types onto solving them, then “recruit” successful candidates into their little LARP-game of, er, writing crap software? IDEK.
I can’t decide whether this story is silly (seriously, people), scary (people fall for this stuff?), or actually just kinda sad (it consumes people).
Real life is not like the movies.
My favourite part of this, however, is that people kept asking agencies like the CIA if they were behind the Cicada cyphers. They aren’t… but they figured it was a good idea, so many intelligence agencies now run their own ARG-style recruitment puzzles.
One of the things about the Circada cyphers that struck me from reading this, however, is that none of them are very… complex.1 This isn’t Kryptos-level stuff here. The puzzles themselves are just basic steganography, substitution ciphers, book ciphers, and so on. The “difficulty” isn’t in the mathematics behind the cypher; it’s in having the patience/obsessiveness to track down the correct key. In other words, this is King’s Quest style puzzle solving, not “true” cryptanalysis.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun, because solving puzzles is fun.2 But it’s a different skill; Petals Around the Rose rather than Enigma. And it’s this, more than anything, which I think is the clue that the group behind Cicada is… just some dudes, rather than anything particularly nefarious.