Captcha If You Can

For those of you who visit the blog on a fairly regular basis (for which we offer our never-ending thanks), you will notice a small update has occurred on our blog and contact pages. Though we’ve tried to get by without one, we finally caved: If you want to contact us or interact with our blog, you now must cross that the extra trench of a captcha, a challenge-response test in order to ensure that your comment is from a real person.

Why, you ask? First and foremost, not having a captcha (which is an acronymn for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart”) creates an unnecessary security risk––and I just wrote about how companies need to step it up. Every time a website is open to the public to submit information, the same portal allows spammers––both humans and bots––to infiltrate and overload the website managers with spam. As everyone is aware, spam can be extremely destructive, though we were lucky never to run into that particular problem.

Our problem was one of inconvenience: spam that ate up a significant amount of resources. As one of the website managers, I’m here to tell you it was getting out of control. We would receive 35–40 pieces of spam on average per day, which on weekends would often spike up to 60–70 pieces of spam. On a week with minimal spam, we would receive almost 300 pieces of spam. Trying to sort out the legitimate comments and contacts from that list was often tedious and time-consuming. On top of this, the spam was also compromising our analytics of our website, which in a data-driven society would be reason enough for some people. So finally unable to bear the onslaught any longer, we implemented a captcha.

As you surf the Internet, you will notice there are many different types of captchas––often involving retyping numbers and text or, less often, executing math equations or seeing what is in an image––all with the goal of ensuring that you are human. Because of the print and digital nerds here at Vanguard Direct, we have opted for reCaptcha, a captcha that helps digitize print with every word typed in. How does it work? The program takes words that could not be read using optical character recognition (OCR) and distributes them for users to type in before they can submit other information to a website (such as comments on a blog). How does reCaptcha know the word is correct and that you are human? Two words are presented to the user, one of which is known already. If that word is answered correctly, then the user gets access to the web content and the unknown word is logged with reCaptcha with your possible solution. As that word gets typed, eventually a consensus emerges and the word can be determined with high confidence. With the amount of captchas getting filled out every day, the more reCaptcha is used, the quicker we can archive things that exist solely on paper.

Remember that a captcha can help filter out most spam, making both your life easier and your website a safer place to visit. This week I have gotten two pieces of spam. That’s a monumental decrease from 300. Using a service like reCaptcha on top of it also gives something back to the print and literary worlds, solving multiple problems at once!

Author: Zack Smith


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