“It’s the filtering solution of the poor”: why Captcha will continue to drive us crazy

“I find the captchas deeply unpleasant because the letters and numbers are always written as if it were a CP child on his first day of school,” plagues David, project manager in Data, yet experienced in the exercise. Since its appearance at the dawn of the 2010s, the Captcha (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, in English) has fulfilled its mission by making it possible to automatically distinguish a human from a computer program / computer. While creating some friction with the user.

You connect to a site and must complete a registration form, then a mini technical challenge awaits you. Clicking on a red light or a bus, copying a series of lowercase letters and illegible numbers… the Captcha, torture for some and at least a headache for others, will test your patience. “It’s a blessing in disguise because many computer programs scan the Internet in search of vulnerabilities in a site or service,” recalls Adrien Merveille, cybersecurity consultant at Check Point France.

Google tapped into its potential

The first function of Captcha is to put glue to “bots”, these robot software capable of reading a basic sequence of letters but not always able to make the difference between styles or colors. The risk ? Create fake accounts or broadcast unwanted advertisements on sites that do not have the minimum filtering.

Yes, it will take more to evacuate the frustration born of contact with Captcha, this “diabolical” tool invented by American academics and then popularized by Google with its remastered and double-worded version, reCAPTCHA. Its omnipresence on the Web is due to a solid strategy. “They started making this solution free with an easy-to-use application programming interface (API) for all websites,” points out Arnaud Lemaire, technical director and cybersecurity expert at F5 Networks. The Mountain View giant has found a double advantage: securing the sites referenced by its search engine and involving Internet users. Hundreds of millions have trained algorithms to recognize characters until 2012. V2 of the reCAPTCHA has, in fact, quickly used images of trucks or address panels which were used to perfect the artificial intelligence system… of Google Street View.

No real alternatives in sight

“There has clearly been a diversion of this tool to make the general public work and train the artificial intelligence engine”, tackles Bernard Ourghanlian, technical and security director of Microsoft France, taking care not to quote the ogre Google . “It’s really the poor man’s solution because the commercial sites of the real brands use much more advanced tools”, analyzes Arnaud Lemaire of F5 Networks. And to point out the rise of CAPTCHA resolution sites that bypass them for a few cents.

His disappearance has also been repeatedly announced and repeatedly postponed. “There is not really an alternative to this rather intrusive and inaccessible authentication for the visually impaired or the elderly”, confirms Bernard Ourghanlian, of Microsoft France. Google has tried to streamline the experience since 2014 with the No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA, where you have to tick the famous box “I’m not a robot” and prove your humanity to algorithms through mouse movements. Finally, the 2017 V3 came to conceal this technology from the Internet user by acting in the background. However, it is not uncommon to still face this challenge. Sometimes with a few hiccups. “There are more sympathetic solutions to obtain the same result like the puzzle to align which is faster and easier”, points out David, a frustrated Internet user witness.

Especially since these anti-bot filters are struggling to evolve as attackers progress. “Everyone is now easily attackable with inexpensive tools, the Captcha will be enough to thwart unsophisticated attacks”, analyzes Arnaud Lemaire. Its only advantage and it is not negligible on the Web: its theoretical free. The checkbox or the road signs to select still have a bright future ahead of them.

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“It’s the filtering solution of the poor”: why Captcha will continue to drive us crazy


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