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More devices, fewer CAPTCHAs, happier users


5 min read

This post is also available in 日本語, Deutsch and Français, and 简体中文.

Earlier this year we announced that we are committed to making online human verification easier for more users, all around the globe. We want to end the endless loops of selecting buses, traffic lights, and convoluted word diagrams. Not just because humanity wastes 500 years per day on solving other people's machine learning problems, but because we are dedicated to making an Internet that is fast, transparent, and private for everyone. CAPTCHAs are not very human-friendly, being hard to solve for even the most dedicated Internet users. They are extremely difficult to solve for people who don’t speak certain languages, and people who are on mobile devices (which is most users!).

Today, we are taking another step in helping to reduce the Internet’s reliance on CAPTCHAs to prove that you are not a robot. We are expanding the reach of our Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood experiment by adding support for a much wider range of devices. This includes biometric authenticators — like Apple's Face ID, Microsoft Hello, and Android Biometric Authentication. This will let you solve challenges in under five seconds with just a touch of your finger or a view of your face -- without sending this private biometric data to anyone.

You can try it out on our demo site and let us know your feedback.

In addition to support for hardware biometric authenticators, we are also announcing support for many more hardware tokens today in the Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood experiment. We support all USB and NFC keys that are both certified by the FIDO alliance and have no known security issues according to the FIDO Alliance Metadata service (MDS 3.0).

Privacy First

Privacy is at the center of Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood. Information about your biometric data is never shared with, transmitted to, or processed by Cloudflare. We simply never see it, at all. All of your sensitive biometric data is processed on your device. While each operating system manufacturer has a slightly different process, they all rely on the idea of a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) or Trusted Platform Module (TPM). TEEs and TPMs allow only your device to store and use your encrypted biometric information. Any apps or software running on the device never have access to your data, and can’t transmit it back to their systems. If you are interested in digging deeper into how each major operating system implements their biometric security, read the articles we have linked below:

Apple (Face ID and Touch ID)

Face ID and Touch ID Privacy
Secure Enclave Overview

Microsoft (Windows Hello)

Windows Hello Overview
Windows Hello Technical Deep Dive

Google (Android Biometric Authentication)

Biometric Authentication
Measuring Biometric Unlock Security

Our commitment to privacy doesn’t just end at the device. The WebAuthn API also prevents the transmission of biometric information. If a user interacts with a biometric key (like Apple TouchID or Windows Hello), no third party -- such as Cloudflare -- can receive any of that biometric data: it remains on your device and is never transmitted by your browser. To get an even deeper understanding of how the Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood protects your private information, we encourage you to read our initial announcement blog post.

Making a Great Privacy Story Even Better

While building out this technology, we have always been committed to providing the best possible privacy guarantees. The existing assurances are already quite strong: as described in our previous post, when using CAP, you may disclose a small amount of information about your authentication hardware -- at most, its make and model. By design, this information is not unique to you: the underlying standard requires that this be indistinguishable from thousands of others, which hides you in a crowd of identical hardware.

Even though this is a great start, we wanted to see if we could push things even farther. Could we learn just the one fact that we need -- that you have a valid security key -- without learning anything else?

We are excited to announce that we have made great strides on answering that question by using a form of the next generation of cryptography called Zero Knowledge Proofs (ZKP). ZKP prevents us from discovering anything from you, other than the fact that you have a device that can generate an approved certificate that proves that you are human.

If you are interested in learning more about Zero Knowledge Proofs, we highly recommend reading about it here.

Driven by Speed, Ease of Use, and Bot Defense

At the start of this project we set out three goals:

  1. How can we dramatically improve the user experience of proving that you are a human?
  2. How can we make sure that any solution that we develop centers around ease of use, and increases global accessibility on the Internet?
  3. How do we make a solution that does not harm our existing bot management system?

Before we deployed this new evolution of our CAPTCHA solution, we did a proof of concept test with some real users, to confirm whether this approach was worth pursuing (just because something sounds great in theory doesn’t mean it will work out in practice!). Our testing group tried our Cryptographic Attestation of Personhood solution using Face ID and told us what they thought. We learned that solving times with Face ID and Touch ID were significantly faster than selecting pictures, with almost no errors. People vastly preferred this alternative, and provided suggestions for improvements in the user experience that we incorporated into our deployment.

This was even more evident in our production usage data. While we did not enable attestation with biometrics providers during our first phase of the CAP roll out, we did record when people attempted to use a biometric authentication service. The highest recorded attempt solve rate besides YubiKeys was Face ID on iOS, and Android Biometric Authentication. We are excited to offer those mobile users their first choice of challenge for proving their humanity.

One of the things we heard about in testing was — not surprisingly — concerns around privacy. As we explained in our initial launch, the WebAuthn technology underpinning our solution provides a high level of privacy protection. Cloudflare is able to view an identifier shared by thousands of similar devices, which provides general make and model information. This cannot be used to uniquely identify or track you — and that’s exactly how we like it.

Now that we have opened up our solution to more device types, you’re able to use biometric readers as well. Rest assured that the same privacy protections apply — we never see your biometric data: that remains on your device. Once your device confirms a match, it sends only a basic attestation message, just as it would for any security key. In effect, your device sends a message proving that “yes, someone correctly entered a fingerprint on this trustworthy device”, and never sends the fingerprint itself.

We have also been reviewing feedback from people who have been testing out CAP on either our demo site or through routine browsing. We appreciate the helpful comments you’ve been sending, and we’d love to hear more, so we can continue to make improvements. We’ve set up a survey at our demo site. Your input is key to ensuring that we get usability right, so please let us know what you think.

We protect entire corporate networks, help customers build Internet-scale applications efficiently, accelerate any website or Internet application, ward off DDoS attacks, keep hackers at bay, and can help you on your journey to Zero Trust.

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Wesley Evans|@whywevans

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