2176: How Hacking Works

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 16:36, 15 July 2019 by (talk) (Explanation: {{w}})
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How Hacking Works
If only somebody had warned them that the world would roll them like this.
Title text: If only somebody had warned them that the world would roll them like this.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by SMASH MOUTH. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

In similar spirit to 538: Security this comic deals with how many people perceive hacking and security best practices. Specifically, the comic points out the flaw in the argument of some security minded people that writing passwords down on a sheet of paper is a massive operational security vulnerability, not accounting for the threat model of the general public: reused passwords being leaked from seemingly benign places.

While it is true that storing passwords on paper is generally a bad idea, one has to keep in mind the alternatives—password reuse or unencrypted password documents on a computer—that non-technical people might otherwise engage in. These are far easier to exploit for a casual attacker that goes for quantity over quality. The trade-off of course being that targeted attacks (for example by a family member or close friend) are more easily possible.

The second panel goes into detail how such an attack is usually executed: First, a database containing usernames/emails and associated passwords/password hashes is stolen from an improperly secured website. Randall's example uses a fictional breach of a small forum dedicated to the band Smash Mouth, but even large companies are not immune to leaks. Assuming the passwords were not hashed, the crooks then go on and automatically try to log in to a popular payment service, Venmo, with the harvested credentials. Even though the success rate might be just fractions of a percent, due to the scale and cheapness of the attack it is likely still profitable. Such an attack has previously been discussed in 792: Password Reuse.

The title text is referring to Smash Mouth's song, All Star, where the first line of the lyrics is "Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me".


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Two panels with a caption below each panel:]
[Panel 1]
[Three masked characters standing near a desk with a computer inside a home]
Masked Character 1 [holding a walkie-talkie]: Control, we have flown to the USA and breached the target's house.
Masked Character 2: They wrote all their passwords in a book labeled "Passwords"!
Masked Character 3: The fool!
Caption: How people think hacking works
[Two characters, each sitting on opposite sides of a desk with computers in front of them]
Character 1: Hey look, someone leaked the emails and passwords from the Smash Mouth message boards.
Character 2: Cool, let's try them all on Venmo.
Caption: How it actually works

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any idea what the title text is referring to? some smash mouth lyrics, maybe? -- //gir.st/ (talk) 13:48, 15 July 2019 (UTC)

The first line of their most popular song, All Star, is "Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me". 13:55, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
welp, i could have figured that out! to my defense, ducking "roll them like this" only brought up the comic itself. Thanks! -- //gir.st/ (talk) 14:06, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
I think Randall is referring to this https://xkcd.com/792/ with himself is the "someone" who warned them. 14:20, 15 July 2019 (UTC)
I doubt that the title text was a reference to this comic, but I've linked to it in the section about the second panel. Thanks! -- //gir.st/ (talk) 14:28, 15 July 2019 (UTC)

I always (not really) thought hacking was more like "My latest scan of the internet found a computer that hasn't updated it's OS or it's antivirus in two months!" "Score! Hack in and steal their money!" 14:56, 15 July 2019 (UTC)SiliconWolf

Usually, the scan immediately installs some virus. Noone is going to manually hacks thousands of machines. -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:43, 15 July 2019 (UTC)

Note that you can sort of get the best of both words if, instead of using just common password or just password written on paper, you use password combined from those two. Online hackers wouldn't be able to hack your other accounts because all accounts have different password, while family members wouldn't be able to hack anything because they wouldn't know the common prefix to those passwords written on paper. -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:43, 15 July 2019 (UTC)

Nah... I just need to 1) obtain a list of leaked passwords, 2) break into your pad/cubicle to obtain your dead-tree-list of partial passwords, 3) successfully identify the fully expanded one in the former that is the superset of the appropriate partial in the latter, 4) thusly derive the likely transformation you used, 5) apply that to all the other partials to easily h4ck 4ll ov UR 07|-|3|2 |_°9!|\|5 !!!111!!11oneoneone ...6) Profit? 00:09, 16 July 2019 (UTC)
Or just drug you and beat you with a wrench until you give up the passwords 13:59, 20 July 2019 (UTC)

I'm disappointed that the template at the top want authored by "The Sharpest Tool in the Shed." Mootstrap (talk) 02:39, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

Anyone has idea why Randall keeps ignoring existence of password managers? 07:31, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

Because some people don’t use them? 07:31, 27 July 2019 (UTC)

I have to say, I'm not aware of anyone who thinks hacking is as Randall describes. I would have thought that most people would mistakenly think hacking is about typing complex green code onto a screen until a message pops up saying "ACCESS GRANTED". Hawthorn (talk) 12:23, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

Well, some people put a lot of emphasis of never to write a password down, to prevent insider attacks. This leads to people reusing passwords, which leads to the much bigger risk as displayed here. So this comic is in line with 936: Password Strength to keep superstition out of password policies and the attached mindsets of users. (Especially the combination of using long complex passwords, as in 936, and to never write them down would lead people to reuse them a lot.). Randall here mocks, that insider threats are only a threat with insiders (family, friends, coworkers, etc. unless you work (or use your device) in a public place, while the much bigger threat for everyone is anonymous hackers going for quantity. --Lupo (talk) 13:43, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

I have removed the claim that "Most crimes are committed by people known to their victims, [...]". This might be true for crimes committed in the real world, but I doubt that's true for "cybercrimes" (Urgh. That term!). Please do re-add it if you have a credible source for it! ;-) 16:15, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

There are Smash Mouth message boards? Youforgotthisthing (talk) 16:28, 16 July 2019 (UTC)

First panel: Where's the fourth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?? 11:09, 17 July 2019 (UTC)

He's picking up pizza for the crew! Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 12:25, 17 July 2019 (UTC)