If you’ve registered for almost any type of online service in the past few years, then you’ve probably run into a Human Interface Proof (or HIP for short). HIPs are those strings of letters and/or numbers that look like they came from some malfunctioning typewriter.
They’ve proven to be quite useful in cutting down the number of bot-generated accounts spamming message boards and e-mail boxes, at least they did for a while.
Malicious programmers have now had enough time to adapt to the technology, and the struggle to modify HIP to stay ahead of hackers is now the order of the day:
“When Hotmail first started using HIPs, the number of e-mail accounts generated on the first day dropped by 20 percent without an increase in support queries, Larson said. That was a sign that the HIPs were fooling the computer programs that spammers use to automate signing up for new Hotmail accounts from which spam is sent. However, spammers learned how to tweak their programs to better recognize the HIPs, he said.
Now, it's a race for Microsoft to continue to alter its HIP system to fool the computers, which ultimately seem to catch on. Larson's group at Microsoft experiments with different ways to distort the text used in HIPs in a way that is easy for humans to read but difficult for computers.”
So what’s next? Kittens. That’s right, kittens are the solution. Puppies, penguins, and boats may also be a part of the answer. No, it’s not some digital recreation of Noah’s Ark, but rather a type of ‘see and type’ technology that could work in a very similar manner. Instead of typing in alphanumeric gibberish, you’ll probably be asked to define the image in the picture. See a picture of a cute kitten, and type in cat or kitten and you'd probably pass the check. It's entirely possible that there might be a few acceptable answers for each question, but that's at the discretion of individual sites.
If it’s one thing that history has shown us, it’s that underestimating hackers is a serious mistake. While this method certainly seems like an excellent idea, it could end up being cracked one day in the no-so-distant future. Until then, enjoy the pretty pictures.