How annoying are CAPTCHAs? You know, those squiggly letters in a box that are designed to prove you are a human \u2014\u00a0or not? Very annoying, though Google, which controls CAPTCHAs, has made them easier to work with.\nNow researchers have devised a much cooler way to achieve the same goal, using game-like puzzles that are easy for people to solve, but difficult for a spam bots to figure out.\nNitesh Saxena, a professor of computer science at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, led a team that investigated the security and usability of this next generation of CAPTCHAs based on simple computer games.\nInstead of using hard-to-read letters or numbers, the researchers used various puzzles composed of moving images. For example, in a \u201cship parking\u201d challenge, the user has to identify the boat in a set of moving objects and drag-and-drop it to the available \u201cdock\u201d location. Or the user might simply be asked to match shapes. (See below.)\n University of Alabama at Birmingham \nThat\u2019s pretty simple for a human, but it might be difficult for a bot, according to the researchers. Also, its game-like nature may make the process more engaging for the user than conventional text-based CAPTCHAs, they said in post on the university\u2019s website.\nNot only are CAPTCHAs annoying, they\u2019re vulnerable to attacks.\n\u201cIn traditional CAPTCHA systems, computers may have a hard time figuring out what the distorted characters are \u2014 but trained humans can do it in seconds,\u201d Saxena said. \u201cThe trouble is that criminals have figured out that they can pay people \u2014 a penny or less per time \u2014 to sit in front of a screen and \u2018solve\u2019 CAPTCHAs to let them do what they want. This is known as a CAPTCHA relay attack.\u201d\nA few years ago, Stanford University researchers\u00a0created a program called Decaptcha. It was so powerful that it was able to bypass 66 percent of CAPTCHAs on Visa's Authorize.net payment site; 70 percent at Blizzard Entertainment; a quarter of the ones used by Wikipedia; and many more CAPTCHAs on a handful of other sites including CNN, eBay, Digg and Captcha.net.\nIt\u2019s not clear when or even if Saxena\u2019s method will find its way to the public Web. Let\u2019s hope it's sooner than later.