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Humans are Less Successful than Bots at Passing ‘Are You a Robot?’ Tests

Bots have surpassed humans in their ability to pass CAPTCHA tests, raising concerns about the effectiveness of these security measures. These tests were designed to distinguish between human users and bots attempting to gain access to websites. The growing superiority of bots in passing these tests raises questions about the need for continued use of CAPTCHA tests, considering the frustration they can cause for humans.
For almost two decades, website developers have implemented various CAPTCHA tests to prevent bots from accessing their sites. However, hackers have continuously developed methods to bypass these protections, allowing them to scrape content, create fake accounts, and post fraudulent comments or reviews.
CAPTCHA, an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart, originally aimed to create tests that were easy for humans but challenging for software. Over time, CAPTCHA tests have evolved and become increasingly complex, posing greater difficulties for human users.

Recently, Gene Tsudik and his colleagues at the University of California, Irvine conducted a study to determine whether bots or humans performed better in solving the current generation of CAPTCHA tests. The researchers found that bots were able to solve these tests faster and more accurately than humans, suggesting that the tests may not be worth the trouble they cause.
Tsudik notes, “We do know for sure that they [the tests] are very much unloved. We didn’t have to do a study to come to that conclusion. But people don’t know whether that effort, that colossal global effort that is invested into solving CAPTCHAs every day, every year, every month, whether that effort is actually worthwhile.”
In their study, the researchers analyzed the top 200 websites globally and discovered that 120 of them implemented CAPTCHA tests. They recruited 1000 participants from various demographics to take 10 CAPTCHA tests on these sites. The results indicated that the bots developed by the researchers consistently outperformed humans in terms of speed and accuracy.
When solving distorted text CAPTCHA tests, humans took between 9 and 15 seconds, achieving an accuracy rate of only 50 to 84 percent. In contrast, bots completed the same test in less than a second with 99.8 percent accuracy.
Andrew Searles, a member of the research team, believes that CAPTCHA tests have become less effective in distinguishing between humans and bots. He asserts, “There’s no easy way using these little image challenges or whatever to distinguish between a human and a bot anymore.”
Experts in the field are not surprised by these findings. Shujun Li from the University of Kent in the UK explains that recent advancements in automated CAPTCHA solvers, powered by machine learning techniques, have made it increasingly challenging to meet the security goals of CAPTCHA tests. Li suggests that new approaches, such as dynamic behavioral analysis, are necessary to replace the current CAPTCHA system.
Searles proposes using intelligent algorithms to identify and eliminate bot interactions on websites instead of relying solely on CAPTCHA tests.
The study also examined Google reCAPTCHA tests, and Jess Leroy, the senior director of product management at Google Cloud, emphasized their focus on recognizing and interrupting malicious activities, whether performed by bots or humans. Leroy mentions that Google is committed to helping their customers protect their users without solely relying on visual challenges, as demonstrated by the launch of reCAPTCHA v3 in 2018.


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