Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
The title of this comic is a pun - an exploit can simply mean an accomplishment or heroic deed, but in computer science it means a program or technique that takes advantage of a vulnerability in other software. In fact her exploit is to exploit an exploit (her achievement is to make use of a vulnerability). We can also assume that she regards the name she has given her son as an extraordinary deed.
Mrs. Roberts receives a call from her son's school. The caller asked if the she really named her son
Robert'); DROP TABLE students;-- and the mom claimed that they used the nickname "Little Bobby Tables". As the full name is read into the database without "sanitization", the drop table SQL command is being injected and executed which in turn dropped the students table (the mom assumes that the school database would name the students table as "students") and committed it, making the deletion irreversible. At the end, the school informs the mom that her exploit was successful and the mom reminds the school to make sure they have added data filtering code to prevent code injection exploits in the future.
In SQL, commands are separated by semicolons ";" and data is often quoted using single quotes -'-. Commands may also be enclosed in parentheses '(' and ')'. Data is stored in tables of similar items (e.g. "students") and individual entries are "rows" in the table. To delete an entire table (and every row of data in that table), you use the command "DROP" (e.g. "DROP TABLE students").
The exploited vulnerability is that the single quote in the name input was not properly "escaped" by the software. Thus, when the name is embedded into some SQL statement, the quote is erroneously parsed as a closing quote inside some SQL statement, instead of being parsed as part of the name. Lack of such escaping is a common SQL vulnerability; its exploit is referred to as SQL injection.
- [Mrs. Roberts receives a call from her son's school.]
- Caller: Hi, This is your son's school. We're having some computer trouble.
- Mrs. Roberts: Oh, dear - did he break something?
- Caller: In a way -
- Caller: Did you really name your son
Robert'); DROP TABLE students;-- ?
- Mrs. Roberts: Oh, yes. Little Bobby Tables, we call him.
- Caller: Well, we've lost this year's student records. I hope you're happy.
- Mrs. Roberts: And I hope you've learned to sanitize your database inputs.
10: Pi Equals's setting is similar to the title text of this comic.
add a comment! ⋅ refresh comments!
What about the daughter's name?Guru-45 (talk) 14:57, 17 November 2012 (UTC)
- I think that's embellished upon later in a series called l33t. Davidy22(talk) 15:42, 17 November 2012 (UTC)
- It's for novelty license plates with people's names on them (like "Bort" for example). 126.96.36.199 18:15, 6 July 2014 (UTC)
After fixing my stupid undo I think this comic is still incomplete: What is the "driver's license factory" at the title text? --Dgbrt (talk) 16:17, 11 June 2013 (UTC)
- The common tale is that someone purchases some item or other with writing on it (or somewhere where writing can appear, on closer examination) and finds that this writing reads "Help, I'm trapped in a <item> factory", or similar, as appropriate to the object concerned. This suggests that someone is trapped (or perhaps even enslaved to work) within such a place and their only hope of escape is to make 'messages in a bottle' out of the product that leaves the facility. This is often extended to various fantastical situations, like the (British only?) joke about the stick of sea-side rock.
- (Of course, the writing in sticks of rock generally starts to become unreadable (for normal-sized sticks) for any name larger than "Bridlington", although with care I suppose they've made them with a semi-legible "Western-super-Mare" set through them. But one aspect of this version of the joke could definitely well be that the theoretical SOS message wouldn't legibly fit.)
- So, anyway, Mrs Roberts (who waited for a number of years for Little Bobby Tables to grow up to school-age, for the illustrated exploit) is patiently waiting for her daughter to get to somewhere in her mid-teens, or later, all the while intending that she will get to spoof such a message from the local DMV's license-printing facility at some point. (Turns out that could be as 'soon' as her reaching 14-16 years of age for her first Learner license, depending on state.) Momma Roberts likes playing the long-game, it appears. 188.8.131.52 16:02, 19 June 2013 (UTC)
- The mouseover text might also be a reference to an easter egg in classic Mac OS, in which the text "Help! Help! We're being held prisoner in a system software factory!" was embedded in the system suitcase. 184.108.40.206 20:02, 13 April 2014 (UTC)
- Someone should probably put something like this on the actual page instead of just the discussion... 220.127.116.11 02:23, 11 March 2015 (UTC)
Wasn't there another comic that had the digits of pi with "Help I'm trapped in a universe factory!" included in it? 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- Yes, the earlier 10: Pi Equals. 22.214.171.124 20:32, 29 January 2015 (UTC)
The example talks about a SELECT query (for looking up information in a database), but I think an INSERT query (for inserting new information in the database) makes more sense, because of the closing bracket. A SELECT query is usually of the following form: SELECT column1, coulm2 FROM table WHERE username='somethingsomething'.
An INSERT query is usually of the following form: INSERT INTO table (column1, columns2) VALUES (value1, value2)
In the case of the comic, I think it's reasonable to assume it's the start of the school year and someone is adding the name of a new student (Bobby) to the database, which triggers the exploit.126.96.36.199 21:23, 23 March 2015 (UTC) David
I've made an explanation for the title text, if anyone wants to change it to make it less ambiguous or anything, edits are welcome. StairwayToHenry (talk) 15:35, 8 April 2015 (UTC)
It seems to me that Bobby doesn't necessarily share her technical savvy or sense of humour, but caused the incident simply through having the name she gave him. 188.8.131.52 23:47, 23 May 2015 (UTC)
Anyone want to comment on the missing outline from panel 2? 184.108.40.206
23:48, 27 July 2015 (UTC)someGuy