back to article Google kills CAPTCHAs: Are we human or are we spammer?

Google has developed a new CAPTCHA-like system to allow people, and not automated software, into websites with only a single click. The "No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA" offers a tick box for humans to check rather than distorted text to decipher. It's designed so that automated spam software is still fooled by it and gets stuck on the …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not really clear to me why a bot can't match pictures. Still if if proves difficult today, probably by Monday.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      It does pique my curiosity. I note this as a difference merely in degree and not in kind. Image processing is a known-to-be-developed tech because that's the tech behind facial recognition. Sounds to me like the only thing image recognizers need is some time and metadata to train on, then they'll probably be able to defeat image-based CAPTCHAs at about the same level as text-reading ones. And not even the best CAPTCHA in the world is a match for a cyberslave farm, being as they're literally indistinguishable from honest users.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        Maybe what is needed is a combination of natural language processing (still a more difficult task for computers than image recognition, and even more difficult if you combine spelling mistakes and ambiguities) and ethics (of which AI currently has none AFAIK)

        example

        - Pulling wings off flies is wrong all the time

        - It's time my friend pulled off a flies wing

        - I have a great time pulling off flies wings

        - My friend time flies if you give it wings

        Then you formulate a question in a way that requires you to enter an answer rather than select one (otherwise the AI can randomly guess the correct answer if it's just multiple choice)

        1. Jedit
          Paris Hilton

          "Maybe what is needed is a combination of natural language processing and ethics"

          But then how would lawyers, politicians and bankers get online?

          1. James Micallef Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: "Maybe what is needed is a combination of natural language processing and ethics"

            An excellent unintended side-effect!

          2. breakfast

            Re: "Maybe what is needed is a combination of natural language processing and ethics"

            You're right- this would kill PHBbb altogether...

    2. Interim Project Manager

      It can, for example Microsoft also proposed an image based system a few years back, which was effectively broken soon after. See the paper 'Machine Learning Attacks Against the Asirra CAPTCHA' by Philippe Golle.

  2. ATeal

    I'll be glad to see them gone

    The matching images one is not new PHPbb forums I have visited have been doing this for eons!

    So yes, it's not new, don't anyone think it is! Otherwise awesome, it takes me about 3 attempts to get a nasty CAPATCHA right, so I welcome the next step.

    1. Irongut

      Re: I'll be glad to see them gone

      I usually find I have to ask for a different image at least 3 times because I can't make sense of the first few. Even when I get an image I think I can read I'm usually wrong. Generally a CAPATCHA will take me about 5 minutes to get an answer the site will accept, assuming I can be arsed to keep trying.

      By now Google must be convinced I'm a robot.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I'll be glad to see them gone

        No, Google just realises you're quite dense.

        1. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: I'll be glad to see them gone

          >If it takes you 3 tries, and "today’s artificial intelligence technology can solve even the most difficult variant of distorted text at 99.8 per cent accuracy" - then does that mean you're actually not a human?

          Unfortunately, it means that he is just and only that, human......

      2. SDoradus
        Coat

        Let's do some research (Re: I'll be glad to see them gone)

        I usually get two out of three. Maybe the Reg could organize a bit of research ... using (a) its tech staff, (b) people on the Clapham omnibus, and lastly a selection with BA degrees in literature.

        The result could be illuminating.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Let's do some research (I'll be glad to see them gone)

          SDoradus,

          Factors affecting this are probably rather complicated. In my case it's having something like 5% of average visual accuity that buggers me up. Although weirdly the audio ones are even harder, and I've got good ears. I suspect that a matching photos one will present as many difficutties for me, as the obscured text one - it could be like doing a spot-the-difference puzzle.

          Then again people with dyslexia often find that they can read much more easily by putting an orange plastic filter over black text on white. This suggests to me that there are some complicated factors involved in how our brains work on reading. So I wonder if a different way of wobbling/obscuring the letters might be more or less readable by humans. Given that our brains are set up to do pattern recognition.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Let's do some research (I'll be glad to see them gone)

            Dyslexia is usually a very complicated issue because it's not an eye matter but a brain matter. It's not that your eyes are perceiving things wrong but that your brain can't interpret the data right, mixing things up. The idea of the color filter supports the idea that your brain's confused.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: I'll be glad to see them gone

      If it takes you 3 tries, and "today’s artificial intelligence technology can solve even the most difficult variant of distorted text at 99.8 per cent accuracy" - then does that mean you're actually not a human?

      I'm wondering the same. I always thought I was, but I've never been able to get my Captcha ratio much above 1 in 3 either. So does that mean I'm some sub-standard part of the Matrix?

    3. Captain DaFt

      Re: I'll be glad to see them gone

      "it takes me about 3 attempts to get a nasty CAPATCHA right"

      About the same here on some sites.

      With the machines hitting 99.8%, maybe the real test should be two CAPTCHAS, and if you get them both right, you're a machine!

      1. SDoradus
        Angel

        Re: I'll be glad to see them gone

        "... the real test should be two CAPTCHAS, and if you get them both right, you're a machine!"

        Yes. Has it occurred to anyone that this is evolution in action? We are training algorithms to read better than us, and it's only a matter of time before the new no-CAPTCHA re-CAPTCHA is also being done better than ordinary mortals.

  3. leon clarke

    Google seems very clever in its use of capchas

    Not only are they presenting you with a problem which computers are bad at solving. They're presenting you with a problem that they want solved. So for instance, the image capcha thing will obviously be used to improve image search just as the pictures of house numbers were obviously being used to improve google maps.

    1. Tiny Iota
      Boffin

      But if they didn't already know what the house number in the photo was, how would they be able to tell you had input the correct value in the CAPTCHA?

      1. Irongut

        @Tiny Iota

        They don't actually test to see if you input the correct value. They test to see if you input the same value as the majority of people. They then assume that the majority are correct when using it to improve Maps.

        1. theoutrider

          Re: @Tiny Iota

          I remember listening to a talk noting that a common filtering step in addition is to show the user *two* bits of text - one known, one unknown, and discard all answers that get the known text wrong, on the assumption that if someone gets the known text wrong their answer to the unknown text is also untrustworthy while chances are that if someone gets the known text right they'll at least have given the unknown their best shot. Reduce number of answers to process AND (at least presumably) improve the quality of the answers you DO look at in one fell swoop.

    2. graeme leggett

      If you could present the image you are trying to match to a google image search would it not tell you what the image is?

      https://support.google.com/websearch/answer/1325808?hl=en Reverse image search.

      "When you search by image, your results may include:... web results for pages that include matching images"

    3. jonathanb Silver badge

      They have one photo where they know the answer, and another where they don't know the answer. You only have to get one of them right, but you don't know which one it is.

    4. Turtle

      Numbers.

      "pictures of house numbers were obviously being used to improve google maps..."

      Google can give me a house number if they want but they *never* get a right answer from me. I will *always* sabotage the answer, either by leaving out or, conversely, inserting a digit, or interchanging 1's and 7's, 0's and 8's, 9's and 4's, etc. The important thing is that the number they get is as different as possible from the actual number in the image. For example, changing 7038 to 7036 is not really worthwhile, but changing it to 138 is very satisfying indeed.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Numbers.

        "Google can give me a house number if they want but they *never* get a right answer from me. I will *always* sabotage the answer, either by leaving out or, conversely, inserting a digit, or interchanging 1's and 7's, 0's and 8's, 9's and 4's, etc. The important thing is that the number they get is as different as possible from the actual number in the image. For example, changing 7038 to 7036 is not really worthwhile, but changing it to 138 is very satisfying indeed."

        Two problems. First, they'll use statistics to remove you as an outlier. Second, you run the risk of sabotaging the wrong number (the known one) and getting rejected.

        1. Old Handle

          Re: Numbers.

          It probably doesn't hurt google, but at least we're not helping them take over the world.

  4. Camilla Smythe

    Hmmmm...

    http://xkcd.com/1444/

    1. wabbit347

      Re: Hmmmm...

      http://xkcd.com/810/

    2. Graham 24

      Re: Hmmmm...

      Provided the image is of a bird, we have five years before this method is obsolete:

      http://xkcd.com/1425/

      1. breakfast

        Re: Hmmmm...

        ...or do we?

        http://parkorbird.flickr.com/

  5. Florida1920
    Mushroom

    Brute force solution

    A phpBB forum I admin was getting too many spammer registrations from China. CAPTCHA was a total FAIL. I'm sorry to say I had to go with a Q&A in which the question involves an unhappy incident in modern Chinese history that citizens of that country are loathe to discuss. (Think ^2.) Baidu still trolls the site but we're not indexed anymore. Fortunately that's not a great problem for us, but I regretted having to do it. It was better than any alternative I could come up with, though. Now the majority of would-be spammers have Pakistan IP addresses, but registrations by known spammers (determined by checking IP/email address) are way down. I think this is a game in which site admins will always be playing catch-up.

    1. petur

      Re: Brute force solution

      Pro tip: my board has most of the IP range of China blocked. Fixed the problem for quite a good part :)

      (as the board is targeting a Dutch speaking audience, not much is lost, only once did an expat complain)

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: Brute force solution

        So does my Linux box here. The amount of pounding on my SSH port went from one every 3 minutes to maybe 2 or 3 times a week.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brute force solution

      Why are you sorry? That's a brilliant solution. Now come up with more!

      What happened in Tiannemen Square is something only the Chinese GOVERMENT should be embarrassed about. Those protesters are REAL heros, unlike some others we have recently been subjected to.

  6. Mage Silver badge

    Not just bots

    "They" employ cheap humans to put adverts on sites.

  7. Only me!
    WTF?

    99.8%

    How the heck do the bots get 99.8% I can get no where near that level of accuracy!!

    1. LaeMing Silver badge
      Go

      Re: 99.8%

      Maybe they should be blocking users who consistently get the CAPTCHA right, now?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 99.8%

        Too true.

        I used to stay up nights and weekends solving captchas. It was a fun challenge...and I didn't have anything better to do. For a couple of months, I was doing 1000+ per night.

        These days, I typically have to refresh the captcha's 4+ times just to get one that I'll attempt to solve.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 99.8%

          My god the hours must have flown by...

          Christ on an AT-AT man, there is a world full of women and beer and drugs out there and you spent THAT long "solving" CAPTCHAs..

          Here's One.

          5A0 8a5tar0...

    2. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: 99.8%

      I so need their OCR machine...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bank of America..

    ALREADY does this.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are we human?

    Are we not men?

    We are devid....

  10. Cynicalmark

    Captcha?

    oh fgs those are real? I thought I was tripping every time I saw one..........

  11. toejam13

    The main issue I see with image matching is that the Captcha folks will need to keep an image repository that is either large and/or dynamic enough that people can't just run through the test a bunch of times, saving the results for a bot to use.

    Sure, Google could just grab a few million cat photos from their image search repository, but what is the legality of that? A legal set might be much smaller.

    Also, there is a danger in using animals for the captcha. Image recognition software for people has become very good. It wouldn't be terribly difficult for a spam gang to enhance it to where it can tell a cat from a horse.

  12. LaeMing Silver badge
    Happy

    No prizes

    for guessing what captcha images ChatRoulette will be using!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No prizes

      Can you give us a hint?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “All of this gives us a model of how a human behaves,” says Shet. “It’s a whole bag of cues that make this hard to spoof for a bot.” He adds that Google also will use other variables that it is keeping secret—revealing them, he says, would help botmasters improve their software and undermine Google’s filters.

    Like keeping such "secrets" ever worked for anyone. I call this broken.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Security through Obscurity doesn't work on it's own. As part of a complete solution it does have it's place however.

      Anything Google can do to make it just slightly harder for the spammers is good as far as they're concerned. Sure, sooner or later some bright spark will work out what they're doing, but it'll probably take a day or two at least.

  14. Hollerith 1

    Has anyone read a Google digitised book?

    I have had the unfortunate experience, and have found that the quality is cr*p. They clearly went into their stooges' libraries (that is, academic libraries with custodians too stupid to get what what going to happen) and shoved books through scanners so fast that whole pages could be lost or distorted, and text turned into confetti or gobbedygook stays that way. I had to abandon them and never go near them any more.

    1. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: Has anyone read a Google digitised book?

      No worse than the Telegraph.

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