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What Does CAPTCHA Mean?

What Does CAPTCHA Mean?
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CAPTCHA: It’s a Way to Distinguish Machines from Men... and Women

Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart is quite a mouthful to say isn’t it?

So let’s stick with the acronym: CAPTCHA (pronounced “KAPT-chuh”).

CAPTCHA, as the explanation of the acronym implies, determines whether an online request or submission is made by a human or a computer. It generates and grades tests that humans can easily pass but are impossible for computer programs to solve – like having to type the scrambled or distorted words and letters inside a picture (or voice recording for the visually impaired).

The idea for the graphical CAPTCHAs used today was described in detail in a 1997 priority date patent application by a handful of men in 1998.

However, the actual term CAPTCHA is attributed to the four-man team who were the creators of reCAPTCHA, which was a Captcha-like system bought by Google in 2009.

The father of computing gave birth to the idea.

The “T” in CAPTCHA is for the famous Alan Turing, who is considered the “father of modern computing.” Turing, who died in 1954, developed a test as a way to examine whether machines could think like humans, and if people could tell the difference.

Google's re-CAPTCHA software - the next evolution of CAPTCHA technology - tries to guess whether a session was initiated by a human or a bot (computer program) by examining the behavior when the page loads.

If it can't definitively determine that a human is behind the keyboard, it offers two test options: either the "click here to prove you're human" box, or a visual puzzle based on a Google Images photo.

In the photo test, you need to click all the parts of an image that contain some sort of object, like (parts of) a car or house number.

(And you wondered what was going on all that time!)

What do we need to enter those silly codes on the website?

The answer: Spam: (and not the yummy kind in a can!)

CAPTCHAs are used by website owners to deter hackers and spammers from abusing online services or conducting unethical online activities, such as:

  • Swaying an online poll by robotically submitting hundreds of false responses (think online voting for reality TV contests winners, political opinion surveys, etc.)
  • Signing up for hundreds of free email accounts for spam purposes
  • Spamming blogs and news stories with fake comments and search engine links
  • Scraping people's email addresses from websites to later use in spam attacks

CAPTCHA tests can stop many of these common, automated attacks by blocking the robot computers and auto-filling software programs from submitting online requests.

Are CAPTCHA tests successful?

While a typical CAPTCHA only takes the average person about 10 seconds to solve—although on a bit of a downside, it has successfully frustrated a lot of people who can’t quite tell a lower case L from the number 1 or an uppercase O from the number 0.

But seriously, CAPTCHA tests are not without their flaws, to the point it earned a new name: Computers Annoying People with Time-wasting Challenges that Howl for Alternatives.

However, if websites don’t use some type of protection like CAPTCHA to block spam content, they’d get stuck cleaning up dozens of spam registrants or comments every day, wasting valuable time and resources in the process.

It may not be the best technology out there right now, but prevention is always better than cure.

By the way, sometimes when you’re using a Virtual Private Network, you might come across a few more CAPTCHA challenges than usual. That’s because a website you normally visit from home (and your usual IP address), doesn’t recognize the IP address the VPN assigned you (maybe it’s from another country).

So instead of granting you immediate access, they ask you to prove you’re not a robot.

You can do that, can’t you? It’s for the protection of the website and it’s users...including you.

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