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Old 06-13-2007, 11:35 AM   #1
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Location: In Connecticut, on the Housatonic River near its mouth at Long Island Sound.
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Default Can CAPTCHA be saved?

The New York Times had an article on CAPTCHA (the odd bits of scanned text people must decipher to register here and elsewhere, or to post comments on a blog, etc.)

A Dog or a Cat — New Tests to Fool Automated Spammers” (June 11; available free for one week) pointed out that robots can read CAPTCHA images. (No fooling — they get past ours regularly.) In response, developers have been making the images more complex — using color, layering, distorting angles or widths, adding background noise, and other tricks — until now some of these images cannot be read by human beings, yet still fail to foil the spammers.

One solution is to use abstract images (dogs, cats, etc.) that people can decipher though, presumably (or so far) the ’bots cannot. Another approach is to apply 3D effects, change the plane, and otherwise distort the characters mechanically without making them indecipherable to humans.

Poking around, I found one company that is working on the CAPTCHA problem (and selling the results): OCR Research. Programmers and others can license their technology (or it can be free in exchange for a link next to the CAPTCHA image). Not sure individuals can make direct use of their technology, but there some interesting things to see at their web site:

In order to prove the point, they “break” existing CAPTCHAs and show them on their “List of Weakness” (pages and pages of images that can be read by spiders and robots, complete with attribution). Interesting to see what doesn’t work, and why.

They also show examples of one of their improved CAPTCHAs (click on “tEAPAD_3D” in the menu bar at their site).

And they have an article, “Thinking of CAPTCHAs,” which is worth reading.

Interesting topic.

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