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ActsAsTextcaptcha v4.0 released!

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With some downtime over Christmas, I decided to give ActsAsTextcaptcha some love and release v4.0. For those not familiar with the gem;

ActsAsTextcaptcha provides spam protection for your Rails models using logic questions from the excellent TextCAPTCHA web service.

This was a much needed update and necessary to provide a fix for an urgent issue – kindly identified and reported by Jeffrey Lin (thanks again!)

A bot (using something like Mechanize) could by-pass spam protection using a fake question and answer. This was down to the gem exposing the possible answers in a hidden form field. Encryption of the answers only really helped prevent against attacks from the dumbest of spam bots. With a valid question and possible answer combo, POST requests could be constructed to appear valid and submit spam.

Using the built-in Rails session to hold possible answers between requests was a no-go too. Let’s say your app used the default ActionDispatch::Session::CookieStore. An attacker could grab a valid cookie that contained some possible answers to a known question and send that same cookie data (repeatedly) with POST requests containing spam. CSRF won’t help here either (with Mechanize) a valid token can be requested before each POST request.

So it was obvious the possible answers needed to be stored server side, and any reference to associate form requests with the answers needed to be random and dynamic (much like Rails own form_authenticity_token). I settled on using the Rails.cache, it’s available by default and easy to configure. The cache key mutates with each request and cache values only live for 10 minutes.

With this new release I took some time to refactor things a little, update the README and improve test coverage. As a nice side effect code-climate rates the gem with a 4.0 GPA.

Finally, I released v4.1 removing various hooks for Rails 2. It is 2014 now (over 4 years since Rails 3 was released) I think its time to move on.


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Announcing ActsAsTextcaptcha! It’s the first gem to be extracted from Bugle.


ActsAsTextcaptcha - pretending to be human just got tougher!

ActsAsTextcaptcha provides spam protection for your Rails models using logic questions from the excellent Text CAPTCHA web service (by Rob Tuley of Openknot).

To get started, grab an API key for your website and follow along with the instructions in the README.

You can also play around with a working demo on heroku.

The gem can be configured with your very own logic questions (to fall back on if the textcaptcha service is down) or as a replacement for the service. It also makes use of bcrypt encryption when storing the answers in your session (recommended if you’re using the default Rails CookieStore)

About the code

The gem contains two parts, a module for your ActiveRecord models, and a tiny helper method (spamify).

A call to spamify(@model) in your controller will query the Text CAPTCHA web service. A restful GET request is made with Net::HTTP and parsed using the standard XML::Parser. A spam_question is assigned to the model, and an array of possible answers are encrypted in the session.

validate_spam_answer() is called on @model.validate() and checks that the @model.spam_answer matches one of those possible answers in the session. This validation is only carried out on new records, i.e. never on edit, only on create. User’s attempted spam answers are not case-sensitive and have trailing/leading white-space removed.

BCrypt encryption is used to securely store the possible answers in your session. You must specify a valid bcrypt-salt and (computational) cost in your options. Without these options possible answers will be MD5-hashed only.

allowed?() and perform_spam_check?() are utility methods (that can be overridden in your model) They basically act as flags allowing you to control creation of new records, or whether the spam check should be carried out at all.

If an error occurs in loading or parsing the web service XML, ActsAsTextcaptcha will fall back to choose a random logic question defined in your options. Additionally, if you’d prefer not to use the service at all, you can omit the api_key from your options entirely.

If the web service fails or no-api key is specified AND no alternate questions are configured, the @model will not require spam checking and will pass as valid.

For more details on the code please check the documentation.

About the logic questions

Text CAPTCHA’s logic questions are aimed at a child’s age of 7, so they can be easily solved by all but the most cognitively impaired users. As they involve human logic, such questions cannot be solved by a robot. There are both advantages and disadvantages for using logic questions rather than image based captchas, find out more at Text CAPTCHA.Rob Tuley of Openknot

Finally, since things have changed so much over the years, i’ll be doing a refresher post on the state of play for creating/testing and releasing a Rails gem/plugin from scratch.

Rake Tasks

If you choose to install as a plugin, or are interested in the code, the following rake tasks are available;

  • rake spec (run the tests)
  • rake rcov (run tests showing coverage)
  • rake rdoc (generate docs)


Who’s who?

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