The Loh Down On Science

Taking the CAPTCHA security system one step further

Inkblot tests—they’re not just for psychologists anymore!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

As computers get more sophisticated, so do hackers!  In fact, automated attack software can now scan two-hundred-fifty million passwords per second!  

So say computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University.  They’re exploring new ways to outsmart hacking software.  Their latest project?  Two-part passwords.  The first part?  An ordinary password.  The second?  A visual puzzle that requires human recall to solve.  They call it “GOTCHA.”  Users first choose a password.  Then GOTCHA generates ten images:  random, multicolored Iinkblots!

The user types a short description for each inkblot.  Whatever he or she thinks it resembles:  Crazy man with dog ears.  Flying pillows eating Santa Claus.  The next time the user signs in with the password, GOTCHA presents the inkblots and descriptions, mixed randomly.  If the user matches them up correctly?  Access granted!

The researchers are still testing the idea.  One concern is that people wouldn't want to spend time captioning inkblots.

Time we could be spending trying to win at Words with Friends.  Sure!

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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