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Why are CAPTCHAs so hard – and What are the alternatives


Last Update: 17 Sep, 2022

The death of CAPTCHA was declared by Google as the bots are getting smarter than ever, and humans are too annoyed with this anti-spam feature for its called why are captchas so hard?

CAPTCHA was the most accepted anti-spam technology until a few years earlier. In order to tell whether it is a human or a bot, this Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA) was invented. The intention was to generate tests that only a human can surpass for protecting you from spambots.

You are most likely to get spammed if there is a Form on your web pages. Spambots couldn’t pass the images of text used in the early 2000s. But those days are over now, and bots are able to get by the current form of CAPTCHA. This leaves a major security hole that needs to be replaced by another means.

In this article, we will discuss whether you still need why are captchas so hard or not for your Form, and what are the alternatives of CAPTCHAs.

What does CAPTCHA stand for?

As we have mentioned earlier, the “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” is the full form of CAPTCHA. The test was designed to separate humans from bots by generating quizzes or puzzles from a series of warped letters or objects from a selection of pictures. 
A decade after the 2000s, Google used advanced optical character recognition programs with extremely secured and wrapped texts that can only be solved by humans. The program was bought from Carnegie Mellon researchers and used to digitalize Google Books. But that was not enough; Google then moved to a new method NoCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA.

No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA:

Google’s NoCAPTCHA reCAPTCHA grants access by clicking the “I’m not a robot” button after solving an image puzzle. This method analyzes user behavior and data more precisely.
If someone fails to solve the puzzle several times, he has to undergo meticulous security checks like the image below –

Why are CAPTCHAs So Hard

Google felt the need for a new method after it organized a machine learning algorithm against humans. The algorithm was based on solving CAPTCHAs with the most distorted text, where – 

-Computers got 99.8% in the test, and humans got merely 33% (source – The Verge)

Why are CAPTCHAs So Hard?

In fact, CAPTCHAs are meant to be hard. We can say that from the perspective of what it actually does. CAPTCHAs are used to distinguish between humans and computers, which focus on two important things at the same time. CAPTCHA should be simple and easy for humans to pass, and at the same time, it should be impossible for bots to solve. And to make it work, many functions are arranged behind the scenes. 

Even after being this much hard, CAPTCHAs can be broken and failed by spammers. To overcome this drawback, Google already changed it and launched the latest version of it called No CAPTCHA reCAPTCHA. We can say that the technology being used today is going to be barren in the coming future. In fact, CAPTCHAs are supposed to be getting harder and harder in the future as it ends up making AI more advanced to pass the test.

Why does Cloudflare Want To Kill CAPTCHA?

“Today marks the beginning of the end for fire hydrants, crosswalks, and traffic lights on the internet,” this is how Cloudflare described their position on why they want to kill CAPTCHA.

And they are measuring the possibilities of replacing CAPTCHA with Trusted Security Keys like YubiKey Range, HyperFIDO keys which are actually physical authentication devices that work as a “cryptographic attestation of personhood.”

This is how it will work- When a user is challenged while visiting a website, he needs to click a checkbox along with  “I am human.” Then the user will be prompted to plug in their trusted USB security keys or tap it to their smartphone with NFC. when the authentication proves, it will allow access inside.

Why is CAPTCHA used?

CAPTCHAs are used for the following cases –

  • It works like an anti-spam by limiting spam bots from registering services.
  • It doesn’t allow bots to create accounts or make false comments.
  • While using polls, CAPTCHAs keep them accurate.
  • They are used for preserving ticket inflation.

Why might you not need a CAPTCHA?

There are issues with using this Turing test. It isn’t a perfect security system (although not many are). These are some of the core facts that indicate the RIP of CAPTCHA:

  1. Bots are getting too smart to bypass this security as intended.
  2. People are getting too annoyed with this.
  3. They failed to realize that bots are capable of learning and they can solve things like this –
  4. The annoyance of CAPTCHA hampered form conversions. One A/B usability test shows – 
  • 62% of participants could solve a captcha question on their first attempt
  • 23% of participants solved after struggling with multiple attempts
  1. CAPTCHAs are not welcome in the disabled community with limited sight, hearing impairments, or other disabilities.

“CAPTCHAs are an ableist mess. I got locked out of a Google Search Results page after failing 20 CAPTCHA tests in a row. This kind of testing is a nightmare for so many kinds of disabled people. And some places require them to fill out vaccine appointment forms.”

Lydia X. Z. Brown (@autistichoya) February 26, 2021

What are the alternatives to CAPTCHA?

You just can’t rely on a simple CAPTCHA anymore. Because we are talking about your security here. You need to look for alternatives so that your form or website remains more secure. Perhaps, the following alternatives can work very well –

Related article: How to Increase Page Speed using htaccess

Gamification

The first method may not be the best solution for all users, but it is a lot of fun. This method generates a game instead of a captcha. Users have to drag and drop particular items into a box. Bots are not capable of playing the game as accurately as human beings.

Although the procedure can be annoying and time-consuming, it works for those looking for verification with a non-CAPTCHA method. And this method can adapt to more than one game.

Slider

Perhaps, this might be the easiest and quickest alternative to captcha. It requires users to slide a bar from left to right. The slider is hardly visible to bots as it remains at the bottom but can be easily accessed by humans.

This alternative is a perfect verification method for forms, and it suits well for the mobile version of a website. It fits perfectly on smaller screens as it only requires a slider and instruction for the users. You may see one when you try to log into AliExpress

The Honeypot Method

If you are looking for something stealthy that will work in the backend without hampering the user experience of your website, this is the perfect solution. This method adds an extra form that remains hidden from humans.

This form can be added with simple code in both JavaScript and CSS.

However, bots can recognize it as legitimate and fill out this form as soon as they find it. As a result, they will get automatically rejected. The great thing about this method is that the process starts as soon as a legitimate user enters, and he barely knows what’s happening.

According to the following steps, honeypot spam fields can be enabled in the Gravity Forms –

  • First, go to – 

WordPress admin menu > Forms

  • Hover on the form that you want to edit and then go to – 

Settings>Form Settings

  • Now, check the Enable Anti-Spam Honeypot box
  • Click on ‘Update’; that’s it.

This is what the anti-spam honeypot option looks like –

Checkbox

The checkbox is the easiest alternative to our selections. This process is simple and quick. It requires users to check a box to prove he is not a bot. With clear instructions, you can implement this non-CAPTCHA verification on your website or form. Instructions are needed for people who are not aware of spambots.

Using Security Plugins

A security plugin can be used along with the above methods to strengthen the overall security infrastructure of your website. Akismet is a very good anti-spam plugin. This plugin has a distinctive testing procedure for monitoring pingbacks, trackbacks, and comments.

And the most appreciating thing about this plugin is that – it comes pre-configured; you don’t have to lay a finger. The free version of Akismet is enough to fight against spam. But, we suggest going for the premium plans when you need the extra benefits.

Avoid CAPTCHAs with Proxies:

You might see a prompt like “our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network” and get an offer to solve CAPTCHA later. Well, it happens because the CAPTCHA algorithm considers automated traffic when receiving search requests from a robot, computer program, or search scraper. And sometimes, you need to avoid CAPTCHAs to scrap web pages for your research purpose. Here you need proxies to CAPTCHA. 

Captchas can identify repeated visitors from the same IP address in a very quick manner. You can avoid CAPTCHAs by using rotating proxies, which prevents CAPTCHAs from tacking your IP addresses. These CAPTCHA Proxies work for both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. There are many CAPTCHA proxy providers in the market you can choose from.

Beware of Bland CAPTCHA:

CAPTCHAs are discovered to protect from spam and malicious programs, where Bland CAPTCHAs are scams themselves. It pretends like captcha verification prompting users to prove they are human. Online scammers, Cyber criminals use this bland captcha to allow push notifications from browsers. So be careful and learn more to avoid such scams.

CAPTCHAs are Funny?

Sometimes CAPTCHAs are so much time-consuming and irritating that people created memes with their captcha experience and had funs with CAPTCHAs:

Final Thoughts 

Google may also release a newer version of reCAPTCHA that can overcome all the issues with the previous versions. We don’t know that for now. It is as Shuman Ghose Majumder (a Canadian technologist and entrepreneur) says –  

“I think folks are realizing that there is an application for simulating the average human user… or dumb humans.” 

Although we have discussed several more reliable alternatives than a captcha, it is never good enough to get the answer to why are captchas so hard. Artificial Intelligence may bring more advanced bots that will break through these security measurements. We may see more successful options in the future that will work better against spam.

    

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