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CAPTCHA challenges generated from your service's data

Project description


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OpenCaptcha is a completely self hosted CAPTCHA library that allows web app developers to generate challenges based on data specific to their site. The information from those challenges is presented graphically to the user (as an image - typically a chart), who then needs to choose the correct answer out of a closed set of options, based on the information in the image.

For example, a site sharing information about the coronavirus outbreak may generate a bar chart showing the 3 countries with the most active cases for that day and ask the user to respond with the country that had the most cases. The types of challenges available are templates that can be configured by the hosting site as described below.


Run pip install open-captcha

Using OpenCaptcha on your site

To use OpenCaptcha, the site's backend needs to provide the following:

  • Data tables the templates can use to generate challenges. The data would usually be SELECTed from the site's DB.
  • A configuration for a set of pre-built challenge templates. This would usually come in the form of a static JSON config file. Each configuration item tells open-captcha which template to use and provides the configuration for it to generate unique challenges from the data.

When a challenge is generated (see flow below), it consists of three parts:

  • A Challenge structure comprising the information shown to the user. Specifically:
    • The question (string).
    • A chart (PNG image) shown to the user.
    • A list of possible answers (strings).
  • A ServerContext structure, which should be stored on the server and is used to verify the user's answer.
  • A ChallengeID, which is an opaque token used to connect the Challenge to its ServerContext.

The suggested backend flow would be:

  1. At startup, construct a CaptchaGenerator object, providing it with data tables and the configuration for the templates you want to use.
  2. Call generator.generate_challenge(), which randomly selects one of the templates and uses it to generate a triplet of ChallengeId, Challenge and ServerContext.
  3. The server should store the ServerContext on some cache service (e.g. redis), keyed by the ChallengeId. The context should be stored with a short TTL (but long enough to allow legitimate users to answer the question).
  4. The Challenge and ChallengeId are then sent to the client, which presents them to the user. Once the user answers, the user's answer is sent together with the ChallengeId back to the server for verification.
  5. The server retrieves the ServerContext from cache using the ChallengeId. If the context is not found (wrong token or TTL expired) this counts as a verification failure.
  6. The server calls generator.verify_response(), passing the user's answer and the ServerContext. The method returns True iff the answer is correct and was received within a specified timeout. A configurable number of typos in the answer is allowed.

An example flow can be found in, which shows the above steps in the form of a unit test. These do not include the calling server's logic: how the configuration is loaded, how the data is retrieved from the DB, how the cache and communication with the client is managed. These are left out on purpose in order to allow the server developer the maximum amount of flexibility in implementing those aspects.

Extending the library by adding new challenge templates

OpenCaptcha comes with a small number of pre-defined templates. These can be extended over time by the developers working on OpenCaptcha itself, but they can also be extended by server developers using OpenCaptcha to add unique types of challenges that make sense for their site.

To add a new type of challenge, simply create a subclass of ChallengeTemplate and implement the following interface:

  1. The class attribute config_name should be the name of the template, which is how it's referred to from the configuration.
  2. The class's __init__() method is free to accept any type and number of parameters. These are specified in the configuration item that references that template. Typical parameters would be the question text, which data tables and columns to get the data from and other template-specific parameters.
  3. Implement the generate_challenge() method. This method receives the data and should return a Challenge object and the correct answer.

See the code and tests for more details.

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