Feeds

Facebook takes the Captcha rap

Stop the word verification madness

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

From time to time we capture word verification silliness for posterity. It's been a while, but we've got another for you, this time from Facebook - and this time it ain't so silly.

The text reads: "rape now". It was displayed next to the picture of a female work colleague our tipster (a Reg reader, of course) was adding to his list of Facebook friends?

Screenshot from Facebook captcha that reads: "rape now"

While Facebook calls such scripts "security checks," the rest of the world knows them as captchas, short for completely automated public Turing Test to tell computers and humans apart. The point is to display an image that's not easily recognizable to a computer to ensure a real person is on the other end of a transaction.

The offending captcha was generated by ReCaptcha, a project sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University researchers working on a novel way of digitizing old books. Optical character recognition can stumble on as much as 30 per cent of the words it encounters. ReCaptcha displays them to users of Facebook and other sites. When they type in the corresponding text, the mystery is solved.

"Although there is very heavy filtering against offensive CAPTCHAs (we have over 1000 words in our list of offensive terms), in very rare cases, inappropriate words can be shown," Luis von Ahn, a professor working on the project explained in an email. "We work very hard to keep such words out of the system, but in general it is impossible to guarantee that nothing offensive will ever be displayed."

He said ReCaptcha displays about 30 million images every day and generally gets fewer than one complaint each month.

We knew there was something strange about the words being displayed on Facebook's security check. While cycling through we got combinations that included "mutton synagogue," Toledo playmates" and "wiped president."

Von Ahn says this isn't the first cockup to affect a captcha, and pointed us to several examples, two of which we include below.

Screenshot of Google Adwords captcha that reads: "pness"

Screenshot of Google captcha that reads: "nodick"

We see his point. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
George Clooney, WikiLeaks' lawyer wife hand out burner phones to wedding guests
Day 4: 'News'-papers STILL rammed with Clooney nuptials
Shellshock: 'Larger scale attack' on its way, warn securo-bods
Not just web servers under threat - though TENS of THOUSANDS have been hit
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
PEAK IPV4? Global IPv6 traffic is growing, DDoS dying, says Akamai
First time the cache network has seen drop in use of 32-bit-wide IP addresses
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.