Practical Technology

for practical people.

Can CAPTCHA be saved?


You may not know the term, “CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart),” but you’ve used it.

You may not, however, be using it for much longer. Every time you’ve had to puzzle out the letters and numbers from a distorted, scrambled jumble before you can sign up for a new Web services account, such as Live Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail or post a story on an online discussion systems like Digg, you’ve used CAPTHCHA.

It’s meant to make sure that you’re a real person and not a bot seeking to spread malware and spam. For a while CAPTHCHA worked. If you’re like me, you found it annoying, because there were times when you couldn’t tell the difference between ‘s’ and ‘S’ either. Still, even though it was, and is, a pain, I was willing to put up with it since it actually did help block spammers.

The key word above is ‘did.’ In late 2007, hackers started getting some success against CAPTHCA schemes. By January 2008, Yahoo Mail was cracked; Hotmail was crunched in early April; and Gmail was cut open in April.

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