Are Captchas Less-Than-Useful Technology?


Oh captchas (or Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart). As Internet users, we deal with things that are sometimes annoying, like captchas, to help ensure our security and the security of the businesses that we are using while online.

Businesses both small and large use captchas in order to verify that the person who is trying to use their services is in fact a person rather than another computer or automated program. The most common example of a website that uses captchas regularly is Ticketmaster. During the checkout process, you have to get past several of them in order to buy tickets. Event tickets are highly targeted by would-be bulk buyers in order to scalp the tickets (either on the web or otherwise) for a profit. Ticketmaster aims to get tickets to individuals rather than resellers.

Small businesses can use captcha also. While they are most popularly used in a retail-checkout environment, they can also be useful when it comes to signups for emails or filling out forms online.

But how secure is Captcha? In the past, they were very successful in determining if the person using the service was in fact a person. However, lately researchers and hackers are getting better and better at cracking the Captcha code. One of the inventors of captcha technology, named Luis von Ahn, says that most ways that people try to crack Captcha is by targeting one specific weakness in the technology. He says that usually, those methods don’t work well.

However, new research from a company called Vicarious has found an easier way to get through a Captcha wall. He and his team have taken the time to write software that can be “taught” to recognize letters. The software must be shown just a few examples of letters in order to learn them. In turn, it can then recognize letters in many different styles and circumstances.

So is Vicarious out to make Captcha useless? The answer is no. They are planning to use their letter-recognition technology in order to make computers able to read things that they would not have previously been able to read.

What does this mean for businesses? I can tell you that it doesn’t mean that website owners need to find something better than Captcha to protect themselves from cyber-attacks just yet. But it does mean that it’s important for business owners to be on their toes and watch out for unusual trends in usage.

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Maddie Heinen
Maddie Heinen is a contributor to She is a freelance writer who specializes in blogging, content creation, and social media.
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