recommended reading

CAPTCHAs Are Becoming Security Theater

Maen Zayyad/Shutterstock.com

CAPTCHAs are a time-worn way for humans to tell computers that we are human. They are those little boxes filled with distorted text that we've been told humans can decipher, but computers—the bad guys' computers—cannot. So, Watson-be-damned, we enter the letters and gain access to whatever is behind the veil, leaving the bad bots steaming outside the pearly, CAPTCHA'd gates. As Google's ReCAPTCHA website puts it: "Tough on bots, easy on humans."

It is a satisfying display of human superiority built into the daily experience of the web. And, BONUS, you're often helping do optical character recognition on old books at the same time. Take that, Machines, you don't even have any books.

But then along comes Google today noting, in a showily short and breezy blog post, that their machines can beat ReCAPTCHAs 99% of the time

"Turns out that this new algorithm can also be used to read CAPTCHA puzzles—we found that it can decipher the hardest distorted text puzzles from reCAPTCHA with over 99 percent accuracy," writes Google product manager Vinay Shet. "This shows that the act of typing in the answer to a distorted image should not be the only factor when it comes to determining a human versus a machine."

But that's not even the most galling thing. That's reserved for the next paragraph.

"Last year, we announced that we’ve significantly reduced our dependence on text distortions as the main differentiator between human and machine," Shet continues, "and instead perform advanced risk analysis."

So, we've been proudly typing away the whole time, proving we were human, and Google knew that all along.

In an earlier post, Shet described their process in general terms: Google has begun "actively considering the user’s entire engagement with the CAPTCHA—before, during and after they interact with it. That means that today the distorted letters serve less as a test of humanity and more as a medium of engagement to elicit a broad range of cues that characterize humans and bots." 

Now, we go on typing into the box, but our evolved visual systems—some of the most sophisticated in the animal kingdom—are no longer all that necessary.

What we once did to assure Google that we were still human has becomesecurity theater. The only audience that we need to perform our humanity for is ourselves.

(Image via Maen Zayyad/Shutterstock.com)

Threatwatch Alert

Credential-stealing malware / User accounts compromised / Software vulnerability

Android Malware Infects More than 1M Phones, Adds 13,000 Devices a Day

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.