About Computers for Newbies & Everyone Else

March 5, 2013

What are Those Hard to Read Characters for Anyway?

I receive questions about those goofy, hard to read letters which are found on many websites from time-to-time.  They are known as “Captchas.”  Yes, a nonsensical word, unless you are a geek. It actually stands for the word, “capture.”  Now that you just repeated them both in your mind, you are nodding – you get it!

imageWhen captchas first started out you usually found one “word” which you had to retype in a text box in order to proceed to the next step on a site.  I use the word “word” loosely since when the captcha craze first started out it was a combination of letters and usually did not spell an actual word.  Today they have advanced to multiple words or letter/number combos like “ck1U8iuX7” and appear slanted or wavy.

At first it was easy, but then with the addition of numbers, caps and slants things became a little more difficult.  Was that a numeral one (1) or the lowercase letter “l?” Is that a twisted capital “X” or lowercase?  So, to help out with that they added a reload button, which is basically one curved arrow chasing another.  If you clicked that button it would give you another word, sometimes to your advantage and sometimes not.

Later it was decided to add another button to “speak” the word.  The icon is usually represented by a small speaker for you to click.  I have tried these on occasion and I just LOL (Laugh-Out-Loud, for you non texting folks).  I cannot understand anything.  To me it sounds like static with a voice lightly speaking in the background; worthless.

OK, now you understand what they are but you still need to know the why of captcha.

Captchas were created to keep internet robots (sometimes called net-bots) from signing up for accounts on websites.  Basically I could offer the first one hundred people who join my website a free copy of my book (example only – I have no book).  A net-bot could immediately log onto my site and register hundreds of fake users in a matter of seconds; thereby, locking out real humans.

The captcha process is called a “challenge-response test.” This basically means that in order to make sure you are a real human it gives you a test that a computer cannot pass.  As we can see from above the “challenge” to you is to decipher the words you see in the graphic box and the “response” is for you to reenter that pattern of characters into a textbox.  If you pass the test you go to the next step, if not you can try another set of characters until you get it correct.

I use a captcha program called, “reCAPTCHA” which is owned by Google.  Google states that they are displaying over 100 million captchas every day with this service.

Captchas are a pain but it is all about internet security, so embrace it.

To try it out and see if you can pass the test by going to and click the “Contact Ron” link in the upper left of the page under “Pages.”  If you want to LOL hit the speaker and hear the hint.  And for another reCaptcha try this one.

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