Thursday, February 10, 2011

CAPTCHAs: Do we really have to suffer?

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We are humans, not bots. asfgasfasdsaf 

Recently, my sister tried to log in to her Yahoo! mail account. But she was not successful. She tried entering another password, again, a wrong one. She tried another, and another one...

Then suddenly, it seemed like the system was notified of her continuous attempts of logging in. Here comes the CAPTCHAs.

If you have any account anywhere around the WWW, you eventually have encountered a CAPTCHA. It's that thing you try to figure out before continuing on a certain page. E.g. register on a certain site, comment on a blog. Website developers include this technology most likely as an additional security measure. Since these days many programs can be developed with little cost, some do create programs for malicious purposes. Let's say, for spamming.

Yes, it's one of the main reasons why CAPTCHA exists in this virtual world. A spam bot may be programmed to do repetitive tasks without the need to be continuously guided. They may even be instructed to do tasks a human cannot possibly do. E.g. generate a million possible usernames in a second using a formula. Then, they could also be programmed to login to sites using those generated usernames. Passwords can be generated, too. Even if most of internet users these days are aware that they should use strong passwords, there are a certain percentage that do not follow these guidelines. If the spammer targets millions of users and let's say even 1% of them did not have a good password, those could be thousands!

So that's why we need to go through these tests. But before judging whether CAPTCHA's existence on our Internet life is necessary, we need to peek behind the curtain first.

CAPTCHA, as you can see is mostly typed in uppercase. That gave you a hint, right? Yes, it's an acronym. CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. The name tells it all; it's purpose for it's existence. This term was coined by four university fellows from Carnegie Mellon University on 2000.

It is indeed an innovation. Its founders even received various awards from known organizations. To this date, there are different types of CAPTCHAs available, from text, image, and even audio CAPTCHAs. The main weapon of this technology is the current technologies' inability to produce programs that can surpass human capabilities, like reading a distorted text, describing the objects on an image, and translating a random audio to text.

But, however we look at it, it's still the users who are affected (and disturbed) by this process. Spam bots wouldn't get tired of seeing CAPTCHAs. They'll just skip those. But when we are trying to access our accounts and in case we met these tests, we are required to continue so we could go on. Some are even unsolvable. Yes, I've encountered these wicked CAPTCHAs myself where you couldn't distinguish between letters and numbers and W or VV or UJ. But we need to pass through this test no matter what.


A Wordpress plug-in called Akismet is a technology where it can distinguish between spam comments and comments posted by a human on blog posts. You don't need to encounter CAPTCHAs, thus, increasing the chance of getting more comments on your blogs.

I hope there'd sprout technologies like this where it can effectively pawn the spammers while providing no burden to the users. If current technologies are what makes CAPTCHAs exist in the world wide web today, I look forward to the future.


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