John from Silver Spring, MD writes:

In the past few weeks, I have not been able to enter the verification of a CAPTCHA request. I get the box with their letters/numbers but there is no place for me to make an entry/reply. I teach medical subjects and run into the Captcha sometimes when doing research.

In the never-ending battle against spammers, phishers, and all manner of Internet ne’er-do-wells, the CAPTCHA system hopes to separate automated programs from real human beings. Standing for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart,” CAPTCHA seeks to weed out computer programs and ensure you really are a person before you can sign up for a service or log onto a page.

As with most technology, this is a system that can go completely wrong unfortunately, and if no box appears to let you type in a response, you’ll be left out in the cold with the automated bots and spammers.

Before doing any specific troubleshooting, always try accessing the page with the malfunctioning CAPTCHA from a different browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, as this will tell you if the problem is browser-specific or if it’s coming from another source, such as your firewall.

In Firefox, this issue is usually caused by certain add-ons that can interfere with the CAPTCHA system. Rather than going through one-by-one and deactivating each add-on until you find the specific culprit (although you could certainly do that), an easier way to fix the issue is to simply create a new Firefox profile that doesn’t have any add-ons installed or any settings changed.

In Windows 8, click the down arrow icon on the Start page and type “Run” into the “Apps” search box. In previous versions of Windows, type “Run” into the Start menu’s search box. Type the phrase “Firefox.exe -P” (without the quotation marks) and click “OK” to bring up the Firefox profile manager.

Firefox Profile Manager

Click “Create Profile” and “Next,” and then type a name for the new profile, such as “Test Profile.” Click “Finish,” select your new profile, and then click “Start Firefox.” With the new profile loaded there won’t be any add-ons or setting changes that would prevent the CAPTCHA box from appearing.

Creating A New Profile

For other browsers, resolving the issue may be as simple as clearing out your cache and restarting the browser. For Google Chrome, open the settings menu at the top-right corner of the screen and select “History” and then click “Clear Browsing Data.” Make sure each of the boxes has a check mark next to it, click “Clear Browsing Data,” and then close and re-open the browser.

Clearing Web Cache

If your problem isn’t caused by a browser, the most likely culprit is your computer’s firewall, which may be blocking whatever CAPTCHA service the website uses. Again, you can individually prevent your Firewall from blocking specific CAPTCHA related services one by one until you find the correct option, or you can simply turn the firewall off momentarily, re-load the web page, and then turn it back on once you’ve filled out the CAPTCHA box.

Turning off the firewall will be handled differently depending on which program you use. For the standard Microsoft firewall, open the Windows search tool (in Windows 8 this is accessed by moving your mouse to the upper-right corner of the screen and clicking “Search” when the side bar appears) and type “Firewall.”

Windows Search

Click the link at the left side of the window labeled “Turn Windows Firewall On or Off.” Select the radio button labeled “Turn Off Windows Firewall (Not Recommended)” and select “OK.”

Windows Firewall

Be sure to turn the firewall back on at the same screen after you’ve successfully used the CAPTCHA.

~ Ty Arthur