A CAPTCHA or Captcha is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer. The process usually involves one computer (a server) asking a user to complete a simple test which the computer is able to generate and grade. Because other computers are unable to solve the CAPTCHA, any user entering a correct solution is presumed to be human. Thus, it is sometimes described as a reverse Turing test, because it is administered by a machine and targeted to a human, in contrast to the standardTuring test that is typically administered by a human and targeted to a machine. A common type of CAPTCHA requires that the user type letters or digits from a distorted image that appears on the screen.
The term “CAPTCHA” (based upon the word capture) was coined in 2000 by Luis von Ahn, Manuel Blum, Nicholas J. Hopper, and John Langford (all of Carnegie Mellon University). It is a contrived acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tellComputers and Humans Apart.” Carnegie Mellon University attempted to trademark the term, but the trademark application was abandoned on 21 April 2008
A CAPTCHA is a means of automatically generating new challenges which:
- Current software is unable to solve accurately.
- Most humans can solve
- Does not rely on the type of CAPTCHA being new to the attacker.
Although a checkbox “check here if you are not a bot” might serve to distinguish between humans and computers, it is not a CAPTCHA because it relies on the fact that an attacker has not spent effort to break that specific form. (Such ‘check here’ methods are very easy to defeat.) Instead, CAPTCHAs rely on difficult problems in artificial intelligence. In the short term, this has the benefit of distinguishing humans from computers. In the long term, it creates an incentive to advance the state of AI, which the originators of the term view as a benefit in its own right