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Friday 24 April 2020

Cicada 3301 - A Mystery in the Cyber World

How I came across this?

So the year was 2017 I suppose, I was newly introduced to the dark web, and started watching creepy-pastas spread over the internet. It was interesting. Fascinating yet controversial. 

That's what makes it go viral, doesn't it? We all love conspiracies.

Considering my history of watching those videos, the YouTube suggestion algorithm one day decided to show me a video by LEMMiNO titled "Cicada 3301: An Internet Mystery" [link below]. And that short video introduced almost all concepts I'd studied in Cyber Security.

Let me appreciate that guys editing skills first of all.What a lovely piece of craft, indeed! 

When I watched the video, the curiosity made me search for more details related to it. I visited the Reddit threads related to it myself and the related onion links too. (Taken down, of course.)

Here's a small introduction of what this mystery was, thanks to Wiki, Reddit and several other resources. 

What’s Cicada 3301?

The most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the internet age. — The Washington Post
Cicada 3301 is a nickname given to an organization that on three occasions has posted a group of puzzles to recruit code-breakers from the internet.

Different Rounds

The puzzle had few rounds. Nobody from the public knew that the next round exists, let alone guess it's date or format. It was because there was no official (signed message) from Cicada.

  1. The first internet puzzle started on January 4, 2012 on 4chan and ran for about one month.
  2. A second round began one year afterward January 4, 2013.
  3. And then a third round following the confirmation of a fresh clue posted on Twitter on January 4, 2014.

The stated intent was to recruit “intelligent individuals” by presenting a series of puzzles which were to be solved.

No new puzzles were published on January 4, 2015. However, a new clue was posted on Twitter on January 5, 2016. In April 2017 a verified PGP-signed message was found:
Beware false paths. Always verify PGP signature from 7A35090F.
That message explicitly denies the validity of any unsigned puzzle, as recently as April 2017.
The puzzles focused heavily on:

  • data security
  • cryptography
  • steganography
  • internet anonymity
  • surveillance


It has been called “the most elaborate and mysterious puzzle of the web age” and is listed as one of the “top 5 eeriest, unsolved mysteries of the internet”, and much speculation exists on its function.
Many have speculated that the puzzles are a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA, MI6, a “Masonic conspiracy” or a cyber mercenary group. Others have claimed Cicada 3301 is an alternate reality game.

No company or individual has taken credit for it or attempted to monetize it, however.

The Cicada 3301 Puzzle

Before diving into the main points, let me clear what it’s on the very surface level. It’s a puzzle which is posted on the web with the intentions of recruiting “highly intelligent individuals”.

Solving which supposedly gets you recruited to the NSA, MI6, Hacker groups and therefore the speculations go on and on; although no official prize has ever been announced.

It all started on January 4th, 2012. An elaborate puzzle appeared on message boards and forums which read:

This image when opened using a text editor gives out a Caesar cipher string of semi-readable text, which when deciphered results in an Image URI.

The chase then continued, one clue leading to another. The puzzles used all sorts of techniques in cyber-security including cryptography, steganography etc. They even dropped some clues on physical addresses.

Finally the website closed with a line saying
“We want the best, not the followers”. 
Soon there was a month of silence and then this Image was posted on the sub-reddit on Cicada.

According the Cicada they have found the people they were looking for. But the community out there was not satisfied because of the lack of ending to what was this all about. And many termed it as a wild goose chase and waste of time

But little did we know, this was just the beginning. After an year another quiz dropped on the forum.

The second and third round went similarly. A detailed analysis can be watched in this video.
. . .
Shakeeb Ahmad
Abuzar Gaffari
Ashwini Ghonse
Mustafa Al-Hammadi

[This is a truncated version of a 10-page long blog submitted to the institution.]
Shakeeb Ahmad Maharashtra, India

Shakeeb Ahmad is a blogger, poet, enthusiast programmer, student of comparative religion and psychology, public speaker, singer and Vedic Maths expert. He loves playing with the numbers and invented a shortcut method to square the numbers at the age of 16. In sports, football is root to his happiness. He lives it.

Friday 17 April 2020

Shakeeb Naam Ka Ik Bad-Tameez Hai Koi - Ghazal

To read in Urdu (Perso-Arabic script), click here.

English (Roman)

Hareem-e-naaz men har-dil-azeez hai koi
Ziyaad-e-rashk se phir ashk-reez hai koi

Abas hi rote hain ahbaab mere marne par
Visaal-e-yaar bhi rone ki cheez hai koi

Libaas-e-faakhera pehne ye khush-numa dunya
Baraa-e-ahl-e-tasawwuf kaneez hai koi

Tere jamaal ki taabaaniyon se raushan ho
Hamaare dil pe jo parda dabeez hai koi

Diwana waar pukaare hai jo tujhe shab-o-roz
Shakeeb naam ka ik bad-tameez hai koi

Hindi (Devanagari)

हरीम-ए-नाज़ में हर-दिल-अज़ीज़ है कोई
ज़ियाद-ए-रशक से फिर अश्क-रीज़ है कोई

अबस ही रोते हैं अहबाब मेरे मरने पर
विसाल-ए-यार भी रोने की चीज़ है कोई

लिबास-ए-फ़ाखिरा पहने ये ख़ुशनुमा दुनिया
बराए अहल-ए-तसव्वुफ़ कनीज़ है कोई

तिरे जमाल की ताबानियों से रोशन हो
हमारे दिल पे जो पर्दा दबीज़ है कोई

दिवाना वार पुकारे है जो तुझे शब-ओ-रोज़
शकीब नाम का इक बदतमीज़ है कोई


Hareem-e-naaz (हरीम-ए-नाज़): abode of beloved, महबूब का घर
Har-dil-azeez (हर-दिल-अज़ीज़): popular, liked by all, मशहूर, सब में पसंद किया जाने वाला
Ziyaad-e-rashk (ज़ियाद-ए-रशक): excess of envy, ईष्रया का ज़्यादा होना
Ashk-reez (अश्क-रीज़): weeping, shedding tears, अश्रु वर्षा, आँसू बहाना
Abas (अबस): futile, profitless, purposeless, व्यर्थ, निरर्थक, बेकार, बेफ़ायदा, बेकार
Visaal-e-yaar (विसाल-ए-यार): meeting with friend, meeting with beloved, महबूब से मुलाक़ात
Libaas-e-faakhera (लिबास-ए-फ़ाख़िरा): precious garments, worth being proud of, क़ीमती कपडा
Dabeez (दबीज़): thick, strong, मोटा, गफ़
Shab-o-roz (शब-ओ-रोज़): night and day, always, all the time, सुबह शाम, हमेशा
Shakeeb Ahmad Maharashtra, India

Shakeeb Ahmad is a blogger, poet, enthusiast programmer, student of comparative religion and psychology, public speaker, singer and Vedic Maths expert. He loves playing with the numbers and invented a shortcut method to square the numbers at the age of 16. In sports, football is root to his happiness. He lives it.

Sunday 5 April 2020

LTE - Types, Features and Working


Assuming this is a new term for you and you have no idea what this is, “what on earth does this mean” is the first thing you should ask. Let’s know the full form first. LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution.
Ok. But evolution of what? I don’t know either. According to sources, this naming conventions were a part of advertising the technology and appeal to the customer base. Alright, enough of the intro, let’s know it’s simple explanation borrowed from Wikipedia:
Long-Term Evolution (LTE) is a standard for wireless broadband communication for mobile devices and data terminals.
You still don’t get it, did you? Remember 2G and 3G technologies? This LTE is the next stone in that journey. So the architecture was purely ased on the 3G technology by UMTS. Much of the LTE standard addresses the upgrading of 3G UMTS to what will eventually be 4G.
What’s the major difference between LTE and the third generation (3G)? Well, a large amount of the work is aimed at simplifying the architecture of the system. But is it 4G? We’ll discuss this in the end of this blog. For now, let’s jump to its classification.


There are basically 2 mobile data transmission technologies based on 2 major factors, viz:
How data is uploaded and downloaded
What frequency spectra the networks are deployed in
So, based on these two factors, we have two types of LTE.
1. Long-Term Evolution Time-Division Duplex (LTE-TDD)
2. Long-Term Evolution Frequency-Division Duplex (LTE-FDD)
Before proceeding with this, let’s know some basics of GSM and CDMA so that you know what these “divisions” are. Afterwards, you’ll be able to digest this easily.


GSM and CDMA are two different ways to accomplish the two things. LTE is newer.
The way GSM solves (1) is by something called TDMA (time division multiple access). When you're in a phone call, you're phone is scheduled a bunch of time slots when your phone either sends or receives data. These exclusive to your phone and different from other phones in the cell so there's no interference. This way, multiple phones can talk to the cell tower (seemingly) at once (the bursts of time are super short so you don't notice them).
CDMA deals with (1) in a completely different way. It breaks up the channel into codes/signals (Code division random access). This is a little hard to explain without some math, but there's a notion called orthogonality. If two signals are orthogonal you can pull one signal out without getting interference from the other. Every user is assigned a different code/signal and these are (approximately) orthogonal to each other. This is a more advanced technique and generally thought of as advantageous since there isn't as much waste (TDMA needs little bits of extra time between users to make sure there's no overlap, for example).
The way (2) is accomplished is also very different. In fact there are many different ways it is done even within GSM or CDMA. The way data is sent along depends a lot on how good the quality of the radio signal and other factors. That's a whole other thing. But the options for GSM and CDMA differ.
3G and 4G are kind of marketing terms that come from "3rd generation" and "4th generation". They refer to families of standards, but not specific methods to accomplish (1) or (2).
Now you know the basics, let’s get back to types of LTE.


LTE-TDD Uses a single frequency, alternating between uploading and downloading data through time while LTE-FDD paired frequencies to upload and download data.
Despite the differences in how the two types of LTE handle data transmission., LTE-TDD and LTE-FDD share 90 percent of their core technology. This makes it possible for the same chipsets and networks to use both versions of LTE.
Several companies produce dual-mode chips or mobile devices, including Samsung and Qualcomm.


  • Peak download rates up to 299.6 Mbit/s and upload rates up to 75.4 Mbit/s
  • Cost effective
  • Low data transfer latencies
  • Lower latencies for handover and connection setup time 
  • Higher network throughput
  • Improved support for mobility, exemplified by support for terminals moving at up to 350 km/h
  • Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access for the downlink, Single-carrier FDMA for the uplink to conserve power
  • Support for inter-operation and co-existence with legacy standards (GSM/GPRS or W-CDMA-based UMTS )
  • Uplink and downlink Carrier aggregation.
  • Packet-switched radio interface
  • It’s because of these features that most carriers supporting GSM networks can be expected to upgrade their networks to LTE at some stage


What is LET made of? That means it’s working backbone consists of these things, most of which we have already discussed above. For the concepts you might not find familiar, I’ve attached link to resources so that you can have an idea of what they are.
OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) for Downlink
SC-FDMA (Single Carrier FDMA) for Uplink
MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output)
E-UTRAN (for Network)


One of the major problems they faced designing LTE was how to handle voice calls using it. LTE was primarily meant for (internet) data transfer, so the transfer of voice data to integrate with telecom operators was an issue.
With the adoption of LTE, carriers had to re-engineer their voice call network. The reason behind this was that the LTE standard supports only packet switching with its all-IP network. On the other hand, voice calls in GSM, UMTS and CDMA2000 are circuit switched.
3 different approaches sprang up to handle this:

1] Voice over LTE (VoLTE)

VoLTE networks support both voice and data at the same time, without hampering the other. Whereas, the traditional LTE networks may or may not support data and voice together, or may affect the quality of the voice call

2] Circuit-Switched Fallback (CSFB)

LTE just provides data services. When voice call is to be made, it will fall back to the circuit-switched domain.
Advantage: Operators can provide services quickly.
Disadvantage: Requires longer call setup delay.

3] Simultaneous Voice and LTE (SVLTE)

Handset works simultaneously in the LTE and circuit switched modes.
LTE mode providing data services and the circuit switched mode providing the voice service. This is a solution solely based on the handset, which does not have special requirements on the network.
Disadvantage: The phone can become expensive with high power consumption.


Now the controversy (not a big one, I know… but still, it is there.)
Contrary to popular belief, LTE at the current stage was not always considered 4G. ITU (International Telecommunication Union) determines what can be considered 4G and they initially had defined all the standards which a technology had to meet. LTE couldn’t meet those requirements.
Therefore, LTE is popularly known as 3.95G.
LTE-Advanced did make the cut through. But the business and telecom operators had allegedly “influenced” the ITU to update their standards so that they can advertise their services as 4G to attract users.
As a result, there is a slight disagreement between the businesspeople and technophiles on definition of 4G. technophiles consider the original ITU guidelines as a standard for 4G.


To solve “How to get many people to share a piece of spectrum”, LTE uses OFDMA which increases throughput
Hope you get at least the gist of what’s been explained in this blog. If not, jump over to the pages linked in the article or post comment if you are reading this on ShakesVision.

April 05, 2020

Shakeeb Ahmad Maharashtra, India

Shakeeb Ahmad is a blogger, poet, enthusiast programmer, student of comparative religion and psychology, public speaker, singer and Vedic Maths expert. He loves playing with the numbers and invented a shortcut method to square the numbers at the age of 16. In sports, football is root to his happiness. He lives it.