CAPTCHA… Working or Not?

EdgeWe have all come across them, and some of them are more or less annoying. A CAPTCHA is usually a secondary verification system after we’ve entered our password to make sure that we are real, and it is not a bot (automated system) trying to access our account. I got a notification from a friend earlier this week that he was having trouble with a CAPTCHA, and I was happy to help.

You might have noticed by now that CAPTCHA is always capitalized. That’s because it is in fact an acronym. It is short for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. A Turing Test, named for Alan Turing (a genius who was ahead of his time, and who helped defeat Nazi Germany by developing the computer that decrypted the Enigma Machine… and was then persecuted and prosecuted by Her Majesty’s Government for his sexual preferences), is a test for computers to see if they can be distinguished from humans. So, in short, a CAPTCHA differentiates not the men from the boys, but rather the biotics from the abiotics.

captcha-example-e1484080114733So my friend was using a computer that I had recently sold to him, and while there is nobody who would think that the problem he was encountering was a sign of a hardware malfunction, I did sell him the computer less than a week ago, and anyways I like helping my friends out. He posted on Facebook that he was being stymied trying to log into a site; after entering his credentials, he was prompted for a CAPTCHA code. The only problem: no CAPTCHA appeared. It mattered little that the site he was trying to access was one for a company where I spent a couple of years on a project, but I thought it an interesting coincidence. I told him to give me a call.

Of course, the Facebook riff raff (I’m looking at you Dave! We need to get dinner soon!) offered their opinions, most of which might have solved the issue. I would think ‘Have you tried Firefox?’ to be a bit extreme, but clearing browser data, as well as disabling plugins and extensions, are perfectly reasonable suggestions… nothing worked. He did mention that it worked in InPrivate Browsing mode… which gave me a hint to what the solution might be. I asked him to give me a call.

On the phone, I asked him to reset the browser. You can accomplish this by doing the following:

  1. In the top-right corner of Edge, click on the ellipsis, and then click Settings.
  2. In the Settings menu select Reset Settings.
  3. Under Reset Settings click Restore settings to their default values.
  4. When asked to confirm, click Reset.
  5. Try captcha again

My buddy was ambivalent. He knew that I had re-imaged the operating system less than a week ago, and he couldn’t fathom what he might have done to it that this would be needed. Nonetheless, it worked.

Don’t Worry!

I have friends and clients and colleagues who have everything they need stored in the browser’s memory, from history to passwords and temporary data. The point of this article is not to tell you why that is a bad idea, and why you are leaving yourself open to all sorts of attacks. That’s not what this article is about. Therefore I want to reassure those of you who do this that resetting the browser settings will not clear your history, favorites, or saved passwords. It will turn off extensions and clear your cookies, but that’s it.

Conclusion

For most of us, web browsers are like screwdrivers… they are a tool, they work, we don’t care what’s under the hood. We forget that before we pick up the screwdriver, we are deciding whether we need a Phillips of Flat-head (or in Canada, a Robertson), and what size. Likewise, there are a lot of factors that go into making our browsers ‘just work.’

There are so many factors that websites (and the myriad plugins that they rely on) leverage to work, and sometimes parts of these break because of settings that are either defaults in different browser, or that we change inadvertently. The great bit about a setting that we changed without realizing it (usually for a particular site) is that when we need it again, it will change for you again. Especially in a personal machine, don’t sweat the settings. In a corporate environment, if the company policy is ‘Don’t Do That!’ then either you won’t be able to do it in the first place… or the policy will kick in after a brief delay and reset things the way the company wants them.

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