In this comic (released in February 2018), Randall presents a number of spurious predicted CVEs for later in 2018. Each CVE identifier is given as "CVE-2018-?????", reflecting the fact that they have not yet happened so we don't know exactly what their CVE identifier will be.
| Security Vulnerability
|Apple products crash when displaying certain Telugu or Bengali letter combinations.
||This refers to a real vulnerability in iOS and MacOS publicized a few days before the comic released , as well as past similar iOS vulnerabilities.
|An attacker can use a timing attack to extploit [sic] a race condition in garbage collection to extract a limited number of bits from the Wikipedia article on Claude Shannon.
||Timing Attack to exploit a race condition in garbage collection refers to Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws that can be exploited in cloud server like the ones in Wikipedia. Claude Shannon was an early and highly influential information scientist whose work underlies compression, encryption, security, and the theory behind how information is encoded into binary digits - hence the pertinence of extracting just some of the bits from his Wikipedia entry. This is a silly security problem since all the bits of the article are publicly available.
|At the cafe on Third Street, the Post-it note with the WiFi password is visible from the sidewalk.
||Cafés usually offer free WiFi service to patrons, as a business strategy to encourage said patrons to remain in the building and buy more coffee. Some use a password, so that only patrons can use the WiFi. Since anybody could go in the cafe to read the post-it, and then use the network from nearby, the ability to read it from outside is at most a trivial problem. For systems that are supposed to be secure, writing passwords in a visible place is a major security flaw. For instance, following the 2018 Hawaii false missile alert the agency received criticism for a press photo showing a password written on a sticky note attached to a monitor.
|A remote attacker can inject arbitrary text into public-facing pages via the comments box.
|MySQL server 5.5.45 secretly runs two parallel databases for people who say "S-Q-L" and "sequel."
||Some people pronounce "SQL" like "sequel", after SQL's predecessor "SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language)". The standard for SQL suggests that it should be pronounced as separate letters; however, the author of SQL pronounces it "sequel", so the debate is persisting (with even more justification than arguments about how to pronounce "GIF"). MySQL is an open-source relational database management system, the latest generally available version (at the time of writing) is MySQL 5.7.
|A flaw in some x86 CPUs could allow a root user to de-escalate to normal account privileges.
||Privilege escalation refers to any illegitimate means of giving a system user greater access than they are supposed to have, and most hackers will seek to achieve this if they can. The most highly-sought privilege is that of the root user, which allows complete access to an entire system.
This CVE, however, presents the reverse situation; that a flaw can allow a root user to de-escalate, the exact opposite of what a hacker would want to achieve. (In any case, the root user can always de-escalate manually if they so choose, as they have complete control).
|Apple products catch fire when displaying emoji with diacritics.
||Diacritics are the accents found on letters in some languages (eg. č, ģ ķ, ļ, ņ, š, ž). These would not be found on emojis. It is also a reference to a common problem of modern gadgets catching fire (usually related to flaws in Lithium-Ion batteries).
|An oversight in the rules allows a dog to join a basketball team.
||This likely refers to the movie Air Bud; about a dog playing basketball. This has been a common theme in xkcd comics, see 115: Meerkat, 1439: Rack Unit, 1819: Sweet 16, 1552: Rulebook
|Haskell isn't side-effect-free after all; the effects are all just concentrated in this one. computer [sic] in Missouri that no one's checked on in a while.
||Haskell is a functional programming language, functional programming is characterized by using functions that don't have side effects (can't change things which would be accessible in other parts of the program), as in 1312: Haskell. The joke here is discovering that indeed it does have side-effects, but for some unknown (and highly absurd) reason they only manifest on a specific computer in a nondescript location, but no one has noticed.
|Nobody really knows how hypervisors work.
||"Hypervisors" are a tool for computer virtualization. Virtualization is complex to implement, as it requires a computer to completely simulate a computer, with its own unique hardware and software. Many IT professionals and businesses rely heavily on various forms of virtualization, but the individual employees would be hard-pressed to explain how it works. Programs running on other virtual computers, or on the real computer may be able to access information on a virtual computer in ways which would not be possible with a real computer. Therefore understanding how the hypervisor works is important to assessing security of a virtual server.
Meltdown and Spectre are related to this.
|Critical: Under Linux 3.14.8 on System/390 in a UTC+14 time zone, a local user could potentially use a buffer overflow to change another user's default system clock from 12-hour to 24-hour.
||This joke is about arcane systems that are running Linux in exceedingly rare situations, such that reproducing the error would be incredibly difficult or inconvenient, and would only affect a very tiny user base (if any at all). System/390 is an IBM mainframe introduced almost 30 years before this comic, which has a version of Linux. UTC+14 is a time zone used only on some islands in the Pacific Ocean, i.e., the Line Islands, and is also the earliest time zone on earth. The joke continues by stating that even if all of these absurd conditions were met, the resulting vulnerability would still be relatively benign: simply changing a user's preferred clock display format. Other xkcd comics make references to such obscure computer-time issues relating to time zones and time conversions, and how many programmers find these issues frustrating or even traumatizing.
|x86 has way too many instructions.
||The x86 architecture (used in many Intel and AMD processors) is very complicated. Processors typically implement such a complex architecture using programs (microcode) run on a set of hidden, proprietary processors. The details of these hidden machines and errors in the microcode can result in security vulnerabilities, for example meltdown, where the physical machine does not match the conceptual machine.
More complicated instruction set is more complex to implement, . The x86 architecture is considered "CISC" (a "Complex instruction set computer"), having many instructions originally provided to make programming by a human simpler; other examples include the 68000 series used in the first Apple Macintosh. In the 1980s, this design philosophy was countered by the "RISC" ("Reduced instruction set computer") design movement - based on the observation that computer programs were increasingly generated by compilers (which only used a few instructions) rather than directly by people, and that the chip area dedicated to extra instructions could be better dedicated to, for example, cache. Examples of RISC style designs include SPARC, MIPS, PowerPC (used by Apple in later Macintoshes) and the ARM chips common in mobile phones. At the time, there was considerable discussion about the merits of each approach (with the Mac and PC being on different sides, at one time; owners of other competing systems such as the Archimedes and Amiga had similar arguments on usenet in the early 1990s); this "issue" may be posted by someone who still recalls these debates. Technically, the extra instructions do slightly complicate the task of validating correct chip behaviour and complicate the tool chains that manage software, which could be seen as a minor security risk; however, the 64-bit architecture introduced by AMD and since adopted by Intel does rationalise things somewhat, and all recent x86 chips break down instructions into RISC-like micro-operations, so the complication from a hardware perspective is localised. Recent security issues such as the speculative cache load issue in Meltdown and Spectre depend more on details of implementation rather than instruction set, and have been exhibited both by x86 (CISC) and ARM (RISC) processors.
|NumPy 1.8.0 can factor primes in O(log n) time and must be quietly deprecated before anyone notices.
||NumPy is the fundamental package for scientific computing with the programming language Python. O(log n) is Big O notation meaning that the time it takes for a computer algorithm to run is in the order of log n, for an input of size n. O(log n) is very fast and is more usual for a search algorithm. Prime factorization currently is O(2nn)). If something can find the prime factors of a number this quickly, especially a semiprime with two large factors, there are attacks to break many crypto functions used in internet security. However, prime numbers have only a single factor, and "factoring primes" quickly is a simpler problem, that of proving that a number is in fact a prime.
|Apple products grant remote access if you send them words that break the "I before E" rule.
||Another joke on the first CVE and a common English writing rule of thumb, which fails almost as often as it succeeds. Possibly a jab at Apple's image, portraying their software as unable to handle improper grammar or spelling.
|Skylake x86 chips can be pried from their sockets using certain flathead screwdrivers.
||Skylake x86 chips are a line of microprocessors made by Intel. Some processors are soldered directly to a system board or daughter board, while others are attached to boards that plug into the system board by means of a socket (pins or connectors that make physical contact with receptacles or connectors on a system board). Some sockets, especially older ones, require force to insert or remove and often require the use of a flat blade screwdriver or a specialized tool to remove, but most modern ones use ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) techniques, often involving a lever or similar to tighten or loosen the friction/tightness of the contacts. No screwdriver is needed in this case. Yes, you can forcefully remove any processor from its socket with a screwdriver. There are many reports from people not using common sense.
|Apparently Linus Torvalds can be bribed pretty easily.
||Linus Torvalds is the benevolent dictator of the Linux kernel codebase. Normally it is hard to make changes because he has the last word and because the kernel is replicated in all Linux installations. Linus made the news in January 2018 when, having looked at one of Intel's proposed fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, he declared "the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE". Presumably it may be found that he may be successfully bribed to be less blunt and/or less critical of vulnerability fixes that are complete and/or utter garbage. If this were the case, this would be a severe critical vulnerability to all Linux servers and machines.
|An attacker can execute malicious code on their own machine and no one can stop them.
||The point of an attack is to make someone else's machine perform actions against the owner's will. Anyone can make their own machine execute any code if they have root access and the necessary tools, but this would usually not be described as an attack except in the case of a locked-down appliance, such as a video game console, a John Deere tractor, or pay TV decoder.
|Apple products execute any code printed over a photo of a dog with a saddle and a baby riding it.
|Under rare circumstances, a flaw in some versions of Windows could allow Flash to be installed.
||Flash has been an integral browser plugin for decades but has fallen out of favor in the 2010s, and eventually discontinued because of its notoriously abysmal security record. All security experts advise against install. Preventing installation of flash would make systems more secure, however most versions of Windows do not prevent flash installation.
The joke here relates to the difficulty with keeping Flash up to date or even installed properly to begin with. A common user experience which is the subject of numerous jokes and memes is the constant nagging notification to install or update Flash in order for web pages to display properly. Many IT professionals will bemoan the trouble that Flash has given them in the workplace due to these notifications and problems related to them.
|Turns out the cloud is just other people's computers.
||This refers to a computer meme where replace "cloud" with "other people's computers" must be used in all marketing presentation to CEOs and non-computer literate persons to evaluate the security impact of using "Cloud services". Part of the humor here is that "the cloud", in actuality, is simply a term for hosted services, i.e., computers being run by other people (typically businesses that specialize in this type of "Platform As A Service" or "PAAS" service model). Calling "the cloud" as "other people's computers" is, at its core, entirely accurate, though it takes away the business jargon and simplifies the situation in such a way that it might cast doubt on the security, reliability, and general effectiveness of using "cloud" solutions.
|A flaw in Mitre's CVE database allows arbitrary code insertion.[~~CLICK HERE FOR CHEAP VIAGRA~~]
||Mitre's CVE database is the database where all CVE are stored. This log message forms the punchline of the comic, as it implies that all of the exaggerated error messages above might have been inserted by hackers exploiting the vulnerability. To pour salt in the wound, they then included in a typical spam link purporting to offer cheap viagra.
|It turns out Bruce Schneier is just two mischevious [sic] kids in a trenchcoat. (Title text)
||Bruce Schneier is security researcher and blogger. The "two kids in a trenchcoat" is a reference to the Totem Pole Trench trope. Shortly before this comic was posted, a story went viral in which two kids were photographed attempting this for real to get into a screening of Black Panther.