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Spammers Paying Pennies to CAPTCHA Crackers in Far Away Lands

captchasA few months ago, we told you about a growing wave of spammers who had begun outsourcing their CAPTCHA-solving duties to low-wage workers in developing countries. Now, a recently published study from UC San Diego has revealed just how insidious and exploitative this underground market really is. In the paper (PDF), which was presented at the recent USENIX Computer Symposium, researchers found that spammers have set up a worldwide network of CAPTCHA solvers who spend their days (literally) working for pennies. Most of the solvers are based in India, China, Southeast Asia and Russia, where they receive puzzles from what Technology Review calls "automated middlemen."

Once a CAPTCHA is solved, the system automatically delivers it to the spammer, who can then use the solution to post on forums and blogs, or to set up fake e-mail accounts. Since most CAPTCHAS require only a few seconds to solve, most workers can crank out hundreds of solutions within an hour. Ultimately, however, they receive only about 25-cents for every hour of mind-numbing work, and less than $50 per month.

What's most impressive about this supply chain, though, is its level of sophistication. UCSD's researchers found that most solutions can be commissioned to remote locales and returned within an average of 20 seconds. Workers at one CAPTCHA service in particular were even able to decode puzzles in a wide array of languages, including Dutch, Korean, Vietnamese, Arabic and Greek. Remarkably enough, some solvers were even able to decode puzzles cloaked in Klingon.

Clearly, CAPTCHAs are no longer the spam bot-deterrents they once were -- primarily because spammers have figured out a way to turn humans into robots. True, hackers are still forced to shell out some money if they want to circumvent a CAPTCHA guard dog, but the sums they're paying are hardly steep enough to be considered a barrier to entry. The easy solution, then, is to do away with these puzzles altogether. The not-so-easy solution is finding a new, impermeable barrier with which to replace them. [From: Technology Review, via: Geekosystem]

Tags: captcha, captchas, china, India, klingon, outsource, outsourcing, russia, security, spam, spammers, top