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Spammer Sweatshops Paid to Solve Captchas

As technology and globalization continue to break down economic barriers and more fully integrate national economies, finding cheap, affordable labor has become easier than ever. And spammers are no exception. According to the New York Times, spammers have begun paying workers in developing countries to solve Captchas, those ubiquitous tests that require site visitors to identify a series of fuzzy numbers or letters in order to prove their humanity. Most such jobs are advertised on places like Freelancer.com, and the pay can range from $0.80 to $1.20 for each group of 1,000 deciphered puzzles. The job is surely mind numbing, and the pay is probably less than other equally boring data entry jobs. Apparently, though, the conditions are appealing enough to attract sufficient manpower from poorer countries, where even a $0.50 hourly wage allows a job to compete with others.

Most major websites remain unconcerned with the growing trend of human puzzle solvers, since Captchas comprise only one of many security precautions available to site operators. Google's Macduff Hughes, in fact, is encouraged by the recent growth in low-wage Captcha solvers, telling the New York Times, "Our goal is to make mass account creation less attractive to spammers, and the fact that spammers have to pay people to solve Captchas proves that the tool is working." Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Luis von Ahn points out that even though outsourcing Captchas may appear cheap, the business is intrinsically limited to those spammers who actually make money.

From a security perspective, then, there's probably not cause to worry, given the inherent limitations of the business. From a more global perspective, though, there's still something troublesome about spammers taking advantage of economic disparities for malicious gain. Granted, paying the world's poor to sit in front of a computer is definitely better than, say, paying 12-year-old Vietnamese children to make a pair of Air Force Ones. And, at the end of the day, a paycheck is still a paycheck. But the fact that cyber attackers are using impoverished Captcha solvers to unwittingly further their subversive operations is pretty low -- in every sense of the word. Then again, expecting a spammer to abide by any moral code would be pretty pollyanna of us. If we'd expect anyone to sink to these levels of manipulation, it'd be them. [From: NYT]

Tags: bangladesh, business, captcha, captchas, china, globalization, India, outsourcing, security, spammers, top, web