UPDATE: This code is now hosted in the Subkismet project on CodePlex.

http://www.dpchallenge.com/image.php?IMAGE_ID=138743 Not too long ago I wrote about using heuristics to fight comment spam.  A little later I pointed to the NoBot control as an independent implementation of the ideas I mentioned using Atlas.

I think that control is a great start, but it does suffer from a few minor issues that prevent me from using it immediately.

  1. It requires Atlas and Atlas is pretty heavyweight.
  2. Atlas is pre-release right now.
  3. We’re waiting on a bug fix in Atlas to be implemented.
  4. It is not accessible as it doesn’t work if javascript is enabled.

Let me elaborate on the first point.  In order to get the NoBot control working, a developer needs to add a reference to two separate assemblies, Atlas and the Atlas Control Toolkit, as well as make a few changes to Web.config.  Some developers will simply want a control they can simply drop in their project and start using right away.

I wanted a control that meets the following requirements.

  1. Easy to use. Only one assembly to reference.
  2. Is invisible.
  3. Works when javascript is disabled.

The result is the InvisibleCaptcha control which is a validation control (inherits from BaseValidator)so it can be used just like any other validator, only this validator is invisible and should not have the ControlToValidate property set.  The way it works is that it renders some javascript to perform a really simple calculation and write the answer into a hidden text field using javascript.

What!  Javascript?  What about accessibility!? Calm down now, I’ll get to that.

When the user submits the form, we take the submitted value from the hidden form field, combine it with a secret salt value, and then hash the whole thing together.  We then compare this value with the hash of the expected answer, which is stored in a hidden form field base64 encoded.

The whole idea is that most comment bots currently don’t have the ability to evaluate javascript and thus will not be able to submit the form correctly.  Users with javascript enabled browsers have nothing to worry about.

So what happens if javascript is disabled?

If javascript is disabled, then we render out the question as text alongside a visible text field, thus giving users reading your site via non-javascript browsers (think Lynx or those text-to-speech browsers for the blind) a chance to comment.

Accessible version of the Invisible CAPTCHA

This should be sufficient to block a lot of comment spam.

Quick Aside: As Atwood tells me, the idea that CAPTCHA has to be really strong is a big fallacy.  His blog simply asks you to type in orange every time and it blocks 99.9% of his comment spam.

I agree with Jeff on this point when it comes to websites and blogs with small audiences. Websites and blogs tend to implement different CAPTCHA systems from one to another and beating each one brings diminishing margins of returns.

However, for a site with a huge audience like Yahoo! or Hotmail, I think strong CAPTCHA is absolutely necessary as it is a central place for spammers to target.  (By the way, remind me to write a bot to post comment spam on Jeff’s blog)

If you do not care for accessibility, you can turn off the rendered form so that only javascript enabled browsers can post comments by setting the Accessible property to false.

I developed this control as part of the Subtext.Web.Control.dll assembly which is part of the Subtext project, thus you can grab this assembly from our Subversion repository.

To make things easier, I am also providing a link to a zip file that contains the assembly as well as the source code for the control. You can choose to either reference the assembly in order to get started right away, or choose to add the source code file and the javascript file (make sure to mark it as an embedded resource) to your own project.

Please not that if you add this control to your own assembly, you will need to add the following assembly level WebResource attribute in order to get the web resource handler working.

[assembly: WebResource("YourNameSpace.InvisibleCaptcha.js", 

You will also need to find the call to Page.ClientScript.GetWebResourceUrl inside InvisibleCaptcha.cs and change it to match the namespace specified in the WebResource attribute.

If you look at the code, you’ll notice I make use of several hidden input fields. I didn’t use ViewState for values the control absolutely needs to work because Subtext disables ViewState.  Likewise, I could have chosen to use ControlState, but that can also be disabled.  I took the most defensive route.

[Download InvisibleCaptcha here].