343: 1337: Part 3

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1337: Part 3
I once asked an NSA guy whether they'd broken RSA. And I know I can trust him, because I asked if he was lying to me and he said no.
Title text: I once asked an NSA guy whether they'd broken RSA. And I know I can trust him, because I asked if he was lying to me and he said no.


This is the third part of five in the "1337" series. The title 1337 is "L-eet," or "elite," using the Leet alphabet, a coding system used primarily on the internet (and on early text messaging systems), meant to provide a bit of obfuscation to plain text both to make it harder to read and to show off in a creative way using in-group jargon.

This series was released on five consecutive days (Monday to Friday) and not over the usual schedule of three comics a week. These are all the comics in 1337 series:

The comic is narrated by Cueball as seen in the previous comic, but that Cueball is not shown here, where the man drawn as Cueball is a real person. Adrian Lamo was a hacker known for being a threat analyst and has penetrated many corporate networks. As far as we know, he has not penetrated any government networks, so helping Elaine physically break into the NSA would probably inspire second thoughts. The use of a rug to cross the barbed wire fence is likely a reference to a scene in Fight Club, where the same method is used to break into a liposuction clinic.

RSA (the algorithm) is an encryption algorithm that allows encryption and decryption using separate keys. No efficient method to break RSA is known.[citation needed] But if the NSA knew any such method, it would be unlikely for them to admit that. However, the NSA have paid RSA (the company) to put a backdoor into one of their encryption schemes. Lawrence Lessig is a political activist focusing on copyright law and intellectual property, as well as a founding board member of Creative Commons. He also briefly ran for president as a Democrat in the 2016 cycle but dropped out before any primaries were held.

Steve Jobs was the two-time CEO of Apple Inc. In partnership with Steve Wozniak, he founded Apple. He oversaw Apple's return from near bankruptcy, the introduction of the original Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. But in the '90s, most of this had not happened yet. The comic is implying that it was Elaine, in fact, who planted those ideas in Jobs' mind (while perching on his bedpost, a nearly-impossible physical task for even a relatively small and light human being - such a stance is often depicted for gargoyles or fictional vampires, the latter of which are associated with nocturnal bedroom-invasions like this). Furthermore, Steve's reactions indicate that he was abruptly woken up by Elaine after she broke into his home and started a one-sided conversation with him.

The final panel is a pun on the Riot grrrls - Riot grrrl is an underground feminist punk rock movement. This metamorphosizes in the hands of Randall into Riot Prrl - who presumably prefer to code in Perl. The real Riot Prrl is from Northampton and is into guerilla knitting.

The title text may refer to the urban legend that leads petty criminals to ask each other "Are you a cop?". The bottom line is that anyone who is capable of lying about breaking the RSA encryption algorithm, possibly including the "NSA guy," would be equally capable of lying about whether or not he is lying.


[Outside, Adrian Lamo is helping Elaine Roberts over a barbed wire fence.]
It was the late 90's. Elaine crisscrossed the country with Adrian Lamo, the 'Homeless Hacker', learning to gain entry into systems both virtual and physical.
Adrian Lamo: So you just throw a rug over the fence and... say, what is this place anyway?
Roberts: Nowhere special.
Lamo: ...Elaine, is this NSA Headquarters?
Roberts: ...Look, I just want to see if they've broken RSA.
[Inside, Lawrence Lessig is sitting at a table, Roberts is standing across the table swinging a knife.]
She learned, from Lawrence Lessig, about the monstrosity that is U.S. Copyright Law.
Roberts: So, how do we fix the system? Stab bad guys?
Lessig: I'm starting something called "Creative Commons"
Elaine Roberts: I think we should stab bad guys...
[Steve Jobs is lying up in his bed, Roberts is balancing while crouched on the foot of Jobs's bed.]
She met with Steve Jobs to discuss the future of Apple.
Roberts: Compression and bandwidth are changing everything.
Jobs: Who are you? It's 3:00AM!
Roberts: Apple should make a portable music player.
Jobs: I'm calling the police.
Roberts: Hey, idea — integrate it with a cell phone!
[Scene has two of Elaine's activities. In one she is drumming, in the other she has an electric guitar on her shoulders, one hand on the frets. The other hand is holding a laptop by the touchpad.]
She even, for a time, took up drumming, and helped start a movement among teen girls, a culture of self-taught female programmers and musicians, coding by day and rocking out by night—
Roberts: Riot Prrl.


This is the first xkcd comic featuring Steve Jobs.

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I can't narrow it down, but the "I think we should stab bad guys", coming from a possibly not psychologically 'normal' young girl, comes from something. Firefly? Not sure, and I've not seen all of the Sarah Connor Chronicles yet, either, to my shame. Too early a comic to be Parker from Leverage (right attitude, though, c.f. when she got horribly cold-read by the fake psychic and got told what he'd done to her). But it's that sort of character. 08:14, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

-Maybe the title text refers the Liar paradox, since under the paradox we can assume that all NSA people lie which would lead to the NSA man's saying no to lying = that he actually lied (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I noticed Randall released this comic under a license for Wikipedia. Where is it on Wikipedia? Benjaminikuta (talk) 18:45, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

Perching on the bedpost

This posture, and the whole composition of the scene, might refers to some classical representation of the devil inspiring the Devil's Trill to Giuseppe Tartini, a sonata considered as its masterpiece. 09:18, 2 November 2015 (UTC)

How do we know Steve didn’t just have really long circular bars at the ends of his bed?

in panel 3 elaine perfectly described the ipod touch

At the top of the page, there is (at the time of writing) an add about "What If? 2" and when it comes out. this is always there... exept when viewing this comic, for some reason????? -QPc_G17

I don't think that using the rug to cross the barbed wire fence should be considered a specific reference, as this is a common method of circumventing it and was used in WWI and II. It would be like saying that using boltcutters to get through a chainlink fence is a reference to Monsters Inc., it could be, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of evidence for it. 04:17, 16 October 2023 (UTC)

I'm not going to undo/redo this edit, but it is untrue to say that you don't encrypt with a public key. You can (and often do, depending upon session type/requirements) as part of a handshaking method, using a public key that only the owner's private key can decrypt, so that only the intended recipient with their private-decrypting key can make use of what has been encrypted. (Typically double-encrypted, with the other layer being your private-encryption, for which only your publicly available decryption is valid, so that both parties now know that... as long as they trust the other's public keys for being genuine... in this particular session they can only be sharing information with the other party.) But this, and further additions of complication resulting from additionally trusted third-parties/etc, is perhaps too complicated to add up there. So just mentioning it here. 12:06, 26 April 2024 (UTC)