1808: Hacking

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 09:50, 8 March 2017 by (talk) (Remove "incomplete" tag, expand gcc/bash explanation)
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The dump also contains a list of millions of prime factors, a 0-day Tamagotchi exploit, and a technique for getting gcc and bash to execute arbitrary code.
Title text: The dump also contains a list of millions of prime factors, a 0-day Tamagotchi exploit, and a technique for getting gcc and bash to execute arbitrary code.


While publishing email addresses on websites, people often add space between parts of the email. For example, [email protected] may be written as john dot doe at example dot org. This is to prevent the page scraping bots from harvesting email addresses, which may in turn be sold as address lists for email marketers.

In this comic, Ponytail tells Cueball that there is a tool which can delete such spaces. Such a tool can fix the space and most likely convert the words "dot" and "at" into their respective symbols. This will overcome the problems faced by such harvesting tools, and make these email addresses more prone to receive spam. Cueball is shocked to hear this news.

This comic is referencing a leak by WikiLeaks that compromises thousands of hacking exploits and programs from the CIA on 2017-03-07.

The title text references more interesting-sounding, but useless, parts of the dump:

  • millions of prime factors: Prime factorization can be used to break a RSA cipher by turning a large number into prime factors: this is a very hard problem, which is what makes the cipher secure. Turning prime factors (that is, any prime numbers) into a large number is very easy, because it's just multiplication.
  • a 0-day exploit for Tamagotchis: mostly useless because Tamagotchis aren't connected to the Internet
  • a way to get gcc and bash to execute arbitrary code: gcc is a compiler, so preparing arbitrary code is its main purpose, and bash is a Unix shell, so executing arbitrary code is one of its functions.


[Cueball looks over Ponytail's shoulder at her desk.]
Ponytail: You know how sometimes people put a space in their email address to make it harder to harvest?
Cueball: Yeah?
Ponytail: They have a tool that can delete the space!
Cueball: Oh my god.
[Caption below the panel:]
Less-dramatic revelations from the CIA hacking dump

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Some explanations for title text:

  • a list of millions of prime factors: trivial to produce and useless without knowing the problem they're from
  • a 0-day Tamagotchi exploit: sounds not very useful, unless modern Tamagotchis have internet connection
  • and a technique for getting gcc and bash to execute arbitrary code: unlike other applications, these two programs (especially when used together) are specifically created to let user execute arbitrary code (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

-- Internet connected tamagotchis you say? http://spritesmods.com/?art=tamasingularity -- 06:42, 8 March 2017 (UTC) --

Expanded the details; I know Tamagotchi hacking is a thing, but I'll leave it to someone who actually knows about it to decide whether it's worth mentioning in the page. Also, "a list of millions of prime factors" could just as well be called "a list of millions of prime numbers", which sounds much less important, but I couldn't think of a brief way to mention that. 09:53, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

The television-show "Zondag met Lubach" (Sunday with Lubach) has prior to the elections in the Netherlands launched the Kamergotchi-app. In this app you have to cuddle and feed your partyleader to keep him/her alive. The party leader is randomly chosen. In the last episode of the show the results from the app were compared with the polls. Surely the CIA and the Russians would like to hack this Tamagotchi-clone. Vince 10:27, 8 March 2017 (UTC) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

- I think the joke regarding the "millions or prime factors" is that "millions" sounds like a lot, but it is in fact a very small set that can be easily computed, and even more easily downloaded. It is also useless for cracking any modern encryption. Bigprimes.net has a downloadable list of the first 1.4 billion primes; the 1.4 billionth prime (32416190071) is a 40-bit number, which is only useful for factoring 80-bit products at best. The CIA would likely need (and probably do have) at least a trillion primes pre-computed. Sysin (talk) 10:53, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

Say, this was the first header on the WSJ today! That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 10:54, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

I think the 0 day tamagotchi exploit might be a pun on 0 day exploits as explained above and the fact that tamigotchis use an ingame time mechanic. So a 0 day tamigotchi exploit might allow you to do something special with or to your tamigotchi while it is still and egg. 12:56, 8 March 2017 (UTC)-

I think you're actually allowed to have an e-mail address like john dot [email protected] - but a lot of programs will be greatly confused by it. That is not really a comment on the comic. Also, I once read someone's research which reported that spam list users simply delete obfuscated addresses, and particularly if "spam" appears in the address; for them, if not for the TLAs, to do more is pointless. So by all means set your real address to [email protected] Although you may have to change your names and sex. Robert Carnegie [email protected]!:-) 15:47, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

A list of one prime from each of the million most important RSA keys could accurately, if understatedly, be described as "a list of a million prime factors". If people realize what it is it would break the web. So it depends on which primes: the first million, meh; a million random primes; yawn; a million carefully chosen primes, yowza! The last two would not be obviously different unless you did some fairly minimal work. A prime the CIA classifies could be interesting. Or they could be messing with us.-- 15:52, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

I can't resist pointing out that anything that has a speaker also has a microphone. So a network connected tamagotchi, which is presumably capable of playing sounds, could also be used as a bug, despite being a "low-end device" ☺ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I don't think you can turn a speaker into a microphone using only software, you have to reconnect wires. Also the sound card must already have hardware for audio input. -- 14:59, 9 March 2017 (UTC)
Any speaker can be a microphone too, so "hardware for audio input" is rather loose. It just has to be capable in some way, directly or indirectly, to measure the fluctuations from sound waves striking the speaker. 17:30, 9 March 2017 (UTC)
By hardware for audio input I meant electronic circuits inside the sound card that accept analog input and convert it to a digital signal. If a device is designed just for sound output it might not have the necessary electronics for sound input. -- 21:52, 9 March 2017 (UTC)
If the device uses a RealTek (Conexant, IDT or other) audio codec chip, malware may silently "retask" the output channel as an input channel (as per Intel High Definition Audio specification) and record sound from normally connected speakers without any hardware modification. -- 15:16, 9 March 2017 (UTC)

If the gcc/bash thing was actually a reference to ShellShock or some other real problem, then its inclusion wouldn't be funny... 19:18, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

Pretty sure the gcc/bash thing is a joke about using gcc to make a program, then executing it in bash. This is trivial. A real hack that did this unintentionally would need to involve some other program as well, like some way to get remote access using ssh or such. Trlkly (talk) 21:52, 9 March 2017 (UTC)

In light of the CIA hack revelations, I'm tempted to change my email to Me '); DROP TABLE @gmail.com 09:39, 10 March 2017 (UTC)

Having millions of passwords without a context can be very useful. Ever heard of a dictionary attack? This list is such a dictionary. -- 20:16, 19 March 2017 (UTC)

I really do not think that Cueball is being sarcastic! People exposing security leaks often seem to be convinced that they have found something terrifying when it's really something trivial. Sarcasm would be hugely less funny. 10:09, 4 December 2019 (UTC)