Exploiting the humanmachine gap in image recognition for designing CAPTCHAs

Ritendra Datta, Jia Li, James Z. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Security researchers have, for a long time, devised mechanisms to prevent adversaries from conducting automated network attacks, such as denial-of-service, which lead to significant wastage of resources. On the other hand, several attempts have been made to automatically recognize generic images, make them semantically searchable by content, annotate them, and associate them with linguistic indexes. In the course of these attempts, the limitations of state-of-the-art algorithms in mimicking human vision have become exposed. In this paper, we explore the exploitation of this limitation for potentially preventing automated network attacks. While undistorted natural images have been shown to be algorithmically recognizable and searchable by content to moderate levels, controlled distortions of specific types and strengths can potentially make machine recognition harder without affecting human recognition. This difference in recognizability makes it a promising candidate for automated Turing tests [completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart (CAPTCHAs)] which can differentiate humans from machines. We empirically study the application of controlled distortions of varying nature and strength, and their effect on human and machine recognizability. While human recognizability is measured on the basis of an extensive user study, machine recognizability is based on memory-based content-based image retrieval (CBIR) and matching algorithms. We give a detailed description of our experimental image CAPTCHA system, IMAGINATION, that uses systematic distortions at its core. A significant research topic within signal analysis, CBIR is actually conceived here as a tool for an adversary, so as to help us design more foolproof image CAPTCHAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4956990
Pages (from-to)504-518
Number of pages15
JournalIEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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