792: Password Reuse
Title text: It'll be hilarious the first few times this happens.
This comic has three layers: hacking, philosophy, and Google-satire.
It starts off on a practical level, with Black Hat describing to Cueball a devious social engineering scheme. It relies on the fact that people commonly reuse the same password on multiple websites, and tend to create accounts on new websites somewhat indiscriminately. Thus, one could create a simple Web service to collect users' usernames, email addresses, and passwords. Since many users will reuse this combination on other websites as well, the website owner can try to hack their accounts on other common sites, such as Amazon, PayPal or even people's banks, using the same login information.
In panel 7, the comic suddenly develops a philosophical and ethical bent. Black Hat reveals that he has already carried out step 1, through his numerous unprofitable Web services which he had been running for this very purpose. However, after successfully executing the hack, he realizes that he does not know what to do with all this power.
He reveals that he is already financially self-sufficient, and makes a point that money can't buy happiness once past that point, he even states that research has proven this. He could use his power to realize his sadistic pleasures of messing with people, but he's already a serial classhole and does not need this information to continue that trend.
If he had any beliefs or ideology, he could use this power to try to spread them. However, he reveals that "since March of 1997" he doesn't really believe in anything. This could possibly refer to the March 26, 1997 incident in San Diego, California, where 39 Heaven's Gate cultists committed mass suicide at their compound. It is a plausible explanation, since one of them was the brother of Nichelle Nichols (a Star Trek actress), so the event got a big resonance in nerd circles (and Randall often refers to Star Trek in xkcd). It's also possible that Black Hat was a sincere member of the cult, but the religion disbanded after the suicides, or that he orchestrated the cult. However, given Black Hat's strange behavior, it could be anything, even Bill Clinton banning federal funding for human cloning research. Maybe he will finally find a belief he wish to spread after his revelation in 1717: Pyramid Honey. This lack of a belief could also be a reference to the Phoenix Lights. While this event caused since to believe in extraterrestrials, it is possible that Black Hat's contrary nature is so ingrained into his personality that the event caused him to stop having beliefs or opinions of any kind.
The dilemma: Black Hat has cleverly executed a hack that has given him a lot of power, but he doesn't know what to do with it.
The last part of the comic now transitions to a satire on how Google has already gone through both the stages described above. It describes how all of Google's free services are simply a ploy to collect and control all the world's information, similar in concept but grander than the hack described in part 1. It satirizes the notion that behind Google's "Don't be evil" motto is actually an end-goal of using their powers eventually for evil.
However, just like Black Hat, once Google reaches the stage where they are able to capitalize on their powers, the Cueball-like head-executive finds that there is nothing evil left for them to desire, except (as Hairbun states) make even more money. As they already make a lot of money this ploy is moot, and anything remaining that they wish to do, such as hosting Call of Duty (CoD) tournaments, isn't evil at all.
In the end the secretary calls dibs on the TV in the lobby in order to play CoD4 on what (one can assume) is a large screen. The Cueball-like executive who wished to implement the evil plan in the first place facepalms when he realizes that Google just sucks at being evil.
In the title text, “The first few times this happens” may refer to the weekly CoD4 “tournament.” Alternatively, it could also mean the “first few times” a company decides to turn evil (but then has no idea how). It could also refer to the first couple of times an individual follows through on this plan, but fails after the first part due to lack of planning for the second part.
This comic was directly referenced in the title text of 1286: Encryptic.
- [Black Hat is standing to the left behind Cueball, who is sitting in an office chair at his desk working on his computer. A message from the computer is indicated with a zigzag line from the screen.]
- Black Hat: Password entropy is rarely relevant. The real modern danger is password reuse.
- Cueball: How so?
- Computer: Password too weak
- [Zoom in on Black Hat's upper part as he holds a hand up with the palm up.]
- Black Hat: Set up a Web service to do something simple, like image hosting or tweet syndication, so a few million people set up free accounts.
- [Zoom out to Black Hat standing in front of Cueball who has turned in the chair facing Black Hat, the desk is not shown in the panel.]
- Black Hat: Bam, you've got a few million emails, default usernames, and passwords.
- [Only Black Hat is shown as he holds out his arms.]
- Black Hat: Tons of people use one password, strong or not, for most accounts.
- [The next panel is only half the height of the other panels. Above the panel is the text that Black Hat narrates. In the left part of the panel there is a piece of paper that seems to have been torn of at the bottom with resulting in a jagged edge, could also indicate that it continues further down than shown. On the paper there is three labeled columns, and below each of them about 18 lines of unreadable sentences (mostly just one word). The @ in the e-mail addresses may be indicated with a larger unreadable sign. To the right a broad line goes right from the paper and splits up in five lines that goes up or down ending in five arrows to the right pointing at five labels.]
- Black Hat (narrating): Use the list and some proxies to try automated logins to the 20 or 30 most popular sites, plus banks and PayPal and such.
- Labels on paper: Email User Pass
- Labels at arrows:
- [Same setting as panel 3 but Cueball has taken a hand to his chin.]
- Black Hat: You've now got a few hundred thousand real identities on a few dozen services, and nobody suspects a thing.
- Cueball: And then what?
- [Same setting in a larger panel with more white space to the left, Cueball has his hand down again.]
- Black Hat: Well, that's where I got stuck.
- Cueball: You did this?
- Black Hat: Why do you think I hosted so many unprofitable web services?
- [Zoom in on Black Hat's head now turned towards left.]
- Black Hat: I could probably net in a lot of money, one way or another, if I did things carefully. But research shows more money doesn't make people happier, once they make enough to avoid day-to-day financial stress.
- [Zooming a bit out, but still only showing Black Hat's head in the bottom right corner, again facing right.]
- Black Hat: I could mess with people endlessly, but I do that already. I could get a political or religious idea out to most of the world, but since March of 1997 I don't really believe in anything.
- [This panel is the last in this row, but it does not reach the end of the row above, an indication that this do not directly belong to the panels below. Same setting as panel 3 but Black Hat has his arms out.]
- Black Hat: So, here I sit, a puppetmaster who wants nothing from his puppets.
- Black Hat: It's the same problem Google has.
- Cueball: Oh?
- [This panel is the first in the last row. It does not begin to the left, but has been shifted a bit to the right, just as the last panel above tot he right, ended before reaching the right edge of the row above (and this one below). This is to indicate that this is row has a different story. A Cueball-like executive at Google is standing up leaning his arms on a table with Google's logo on the side. His office chair has been pushed to the left behind him and it is partly off-panel. He addresses the other executives at the table, two of which are shown. The first is Hairbun with glasses holding her head with both hands, elbows resting on the table. The other executive is also a Cueball-like guy, his head is partly outside the right edge of the panel. At the top of the panel to the left there is a small frame breaking the panels frame, inside it there is a caption:]
- Cueball executive: Okay, everyone, we control the world's information. Now it's time to turn evil. What's the plan?
- Hairbun: Make boatloads of money?
- Table: Google
- [Only the Cueball-like executive standing at the end of the tabe is shown, the table is left out. He is face-palming. One of the executives at the table is speaking off-panel. Could be either of the two above, or someone not shown before]
- Cueball executive: We already do!
- Executive (off-panel): Set up a companywide CoD4: Modern Warfare tournament each week?
- Cueball executive: That's not evil!
- Executive (off-panel): Ooh, Dibs on the lobby TV!
- Cueball executive: Okay, we suck at this.
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