Title text: Ok, I've got it, just need to plug in my security key. Hmm, which way does the USB go? Nope, not that way. I'll just flip it and- OH JEEZ IT FELL INTO THE VENT.
On January 13, 2018, the state of Hawaii sent out an emergency alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack. The message was specifically noted to NOT be a drill. This caused widespread panic and fear amongst the island residents, and there were follow-up confirmations from local entities who thought the original warning was real. It was eventually determined that the alert was sent in error -- the explanation being that a technician accidentally sent out the "real" version when they were supposed to be testing the system during an end-of-shift changeover -- but the fact that it took half an hour for the correction to be sent drew widespread criticism. On January 23, it was revealed that the governor of Hawaii knew the alert was a false alarm only two minutes after it was sent, but couldn't notify the public because he had forgotten the login information for his Twitter account.
The proliferation of online services requiring authentication, together with variations in security requirements, various flavours of Multi-factor authentication, a variety of password retrieval methods, and security advice not to re-use passwords across services, has resulted in the management and memorisation of passwords becoming a major headache for many people. This comic shows Cueball, representing the governor, frantically trying to retrieve his log in to Twitter and encountering a number of common frustrations:
- He has a number of passwords that he uses, likely for multiple services, but none of them seem to be working. Often people will use subtly different variations of one or more password(s) for different logins, in an attempt to keep them all unique. In a situation where they've forgotten the relevant password, this can lead to them cycling through all the possible variations, and struggling to keep track of which they have and haven't tried.
- He's requested a password reset, but doesn't know where to go to activate it. Many services allow users to reset a password using a link or information sent to them in an email. However, as many people have multiple email accounts, this can be unhelpful and frustrating if it simply indicates that 'you have been sent an email'.
- He expects the password to have been saved somewhere, but can't work out where. Many devices and browsers now have the facility to save and/or sync passwords entered through them, in an attempt to simplify their management by providing centralised storage. However, the very number of these available leads to a re-fragmentation.
Off-panel, another person is adding to the stress of his situation by screaming at him that people are beginning to panic and warning sirens are going off, underscoring the need to get the correction out as fast as possible. As the caption under the comic indicates, Randall has had a nightmare along these (very specific) lines, and is amused to find someone experiencing that nightmare in the real world.
The alt-text refers to USB security keys, physical USB devices that act as tangible 'passwords' for various accounts or devices. (A traditional key of shaped metal is literally a tangible password, with each digit of the password releasing one tumbler of a physical lock; Electronic keys replace the key-and-tumbler password system with a digital password signal.) In the context of this comic, the governor attempts to sign into his Twitter account using one such key, but can't insert it into his computer correctly (as USB devices are infamous for needing to be inserted in a particular orientation despite having a symmetrical outer appearance; also known as USB superposition.) Trying to flip the key around, Cueball drops it into a vent - similar to what happens in 1518: Typical Morning Routine.
The Hawaii emergency agency also might have password problems. In a news article from June 2017 there was a photo showing an agency employee standing beside his own computer, which sports a password on a sticky note. This caused further criticism of the agency security practices.
- [Cueball is at a desk with one hand on a laptop and the other holding his phone.]
- Off-screen voice: Hurry!
- Cueball: It keeps saying "Wrong Password!" I've tried everything it might be!
- Off-screen voice: The clock is ticking!
- Cueball: I requested a reset but haven't gotten it! Which email did I use?!
- Off-screen voice: Sirens are going off!!
- Cueball: It's not in my password manager! Is it in a browser? Which browser? Is Autofill synced to my phone??
- Off-screen voice: OH MY GOD THE SCREAMING!!
- [Caption below the panel:]
- I feel bad for everyone in Hawaii, but when the governor couldn't get into his Twitter account, he lived out one of my very specific nightmares in real life.
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