Monday, April 26, 2010

CAPTCHA - Some spammers are outsourcing the deciphering of these tests

[ny times] Faced with stricter Internet security measures, some spammers have begun borrowing a page from corporate America’s playbook: they are outsourcing.

Sophisticated spammers are paying people in India, Bangladesh, China and other developing countries to tackle the simple tests known as captchas, which ask Web users to type in a string of semiobscured characters to prove they are human beings and not spam-generating robots.

The going rate for the work ranges from 80 cents to $1.20 for each 1,000 deciphered boxes, according to online exchanges like, where dozens of such projects are bid on every week.

Luis von Ahn, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who was a pioneer in devising captchas, estimates that thousands of people in developing countries, primarily in Asia, are solving these puzzles for pay. Some operations appear fairly sophisticated and involve brokers and middlemen, he added.

“There are a few sites that are coordinated,” he said. “They create the awareness. Their friends tell their friends, who tell their friends.”

Sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end deciphering convoluted characters and typing them into a box is monotonous work. And the pay is not great when compared to more traditional data-entry jobs.

Still, it appears to be attractive enough to lure young people in developing countries where even 50 cents an hour is considered a decent wage. Unskilled male farm workers earn about $2 a day in many parts of India.

Ariful Islam Shaon, a 20-year-old college student in Bangladesh, said he has a team of 30 other students who work for him filling in captchas. (The term is a loose acronym for “completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart.”)

He said the students typically work two and a half to three hours a day from their homes and make at least $6 every 15 days; they earn more the faster and the more accurate they are. It is not a lot of money, he acknowledged, but it requires little effort and can help supplement their pocket money.

Mr. Shaon, who agreed to speak to a reporter only over an Internet chat, said he gets the work on Web sites and is paid through Internet money transfer services.

Spammers Pay Others to Answer Security Tests

No comments: