PlayThru aims to make CAPTCHA more secure and more fun

Startup's cloud-based CAPTCHA alternative offers users simple interactive puzzles in lieu of twisted text

Traditional CAPTCHA is steadily losing favor on the Internet, proving continually frustrating to well-intentioned users and easily exploitable to malicious hackers and spammers. A startup called Are You a Human has announced its own unique approach to fixing CAPTCHA: turning it into a game.

The company's PlayThru cloud-based service is straightforward: When it comes time for users to prove their sentience, PlayThru serves up a miniature interactive game in which they must perform a simple task, such as dragging food items but not inedible items into a refrigerator, or dragging a motorcycle but not a car into an empty parking space. PlayThru uses proprietary algorithms to distinguish human interaction from malicious automated attacks, the company says.

Are You a Human isn't the first company aiming to make CAPTCHA easier for users and less exploitable for bad guys. NuCAPTCHA offers a video-based CAPTCHA technology, while Google recently started testing an an image-based implementation of its ReCAPTCHA, drawing on street-number images drawn from Street View.

PlayThru uses Adobe Flash, HTML5, and JavaScript to serve its games. It automatically checks a user's browser specs and serves the appropriate game. It works on both iOS and Android, too. The technology integrates with multiple CMS platforms, including WordPress, Drupal, PHPBB, and vBulletin.

According to Reid Tatoris, COO of Are You a Human, PlayThru has a higher retention rate than text-based CAPTCHA. Nearly 25 percent of users leave a website rather than complete the CAPTCHA, but sites beta-testing PlayThru have seen submission rates increase by up to 40 percent over text-based CAPTCHA, the company claims. Completing a game takes 10 to 12 seconds on average; completing a CAPTCHA, by contrast, takes around 16 seconds on average.

From a security standpoint, the PlayThru games can't be bypassed using bots the way traditional text-based CAPTCHA can, due to the dynamic nature of the games and the random nature with which they're rotated. They also can't be sent to low-wage workers to defeat the way text-based CAPTCHAs are. All transaction are performed over SSL.

Are You a Human offers an array of games. Tatoris says the company is working on making it possible for developers to customize and build PlayThru games to suit their needs and desires. A Web developer for a site aimed at, say, a more mature, professional audience might make PlayThru games with more muted colors and standard shapes instead of brightly colored, silly objects. Additionally, a developer could customize games to promote a particular brand, such as by having users drag brand-name food items into a cupboard.

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