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  • WisBar News
    May 28, 2013

    WisBar Implements CAPTCHA Technology to Block List Harvesting of Lawyer Search Data 

    The State Bar will use a program called CAPTCHA to block the automated harvesting of information from WisBar’s Lawyer Search. Members can bypass CAPTCHA by logging in to WisBar before conducting searches.

    Users of WisBar (who aren’t logged in) will see this CAPTCHA message box when using Lawyer Search, and will be required to enter a phrase before accessing a lawyer profile. To bypass CAPTCHA, members should login to WisBar before using Lawyer Search.

    June 4, 2013 – Automated spiders. Internet bots. These things sound scary, but they are just technology terms for the annoying practice of unauthorized automated harvesting (or data mining), where Internet “robots” attempt to collect information from websites, particularly websites with lists of names or membership databases.

    The State Bar has responded by implementing a program designed to block these Internet pests from harvesting information from WisBar’s Lawyer Search. It’s called CAPTCHA, a one-step process to distinguish “robot” users from real people.

    Visitors attempting to access Lawyer Search on WisBar (who don’t login) will be prompted to prove their “humanness” by entering a phrase through CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart).

    It’s the same program used by many banks and online merchants, and protects websites against nonhuman “harvesters” attempting to collect information without authorization. CAPTCHA is merely a program to ensure WisBar users are human.

    Why Is the State Bar Using CAPTCHA?

    WisBar has experienced unexpected high traffic to “site search.” After reviewing the results, it appears that automated robots – automated computer programs that visit websites to perform specific tasks – have been attempting to scan WisBar’s lawyer directory, with the goal of capturing an index of State Bar members.

    “The automated harvesting of information is ongoing issue for all websites that maintain directories,” said Derek Novotny, the State Bar’s director of information systems. “It’s not an issue exclusive to the State Bar. Fortunately, due to careful tracking and monitoring, we have caught it in progress and have been able to stop it.”

    Novotny says recent information harvesting attempts have originated from China, Nigeria, Romania, and Idaho, and are becoming more frequent and aggressive. These attempts have caused notable access and website performance issues to WisBar.

    In general, information harvesters use the information to identify economic trends, amass directories for SPAM marketing purposes, or for Internet scams. One harvesting source is linked to a website that maintains information about lawyers nationwide.

    The results indexed during the last few WisBar harvesting attempts have been relatively minimal. Automated robot harvesters basically received the results of the first page of search results showing the member name, firm, and city.

    The State Bar is implementing CAPTCHA to protect other member profile information, such as phone numbers, postal and email addresses. “The CAPTCHA solution is being put in place because it is inevitable that harvesting attempts will continue,” Novotny said. “The State Bar is using this tool to protect member information.” 

    How Will It Work?

    Anonymous users (not logged in) can search for a lawyer through WisBar’s Lawyer Search. Before accessing a full lawyer profile, anonymous users will be presented with the CAPTCHA message box, containing alphabetic phrases (see example above).

    Entering the phrase as it appears will give users access to the full lawyer profile. Members or registered support staff who login will bypass CAPTCHA.

    Why CAPTCHA?

    First, CAPTCHA is the technology industry standard for blocking the automated information harvesting of websites, and is used regularly where online lists are displayed. People are accustomed to seeing and using CAPTCHA.

    Second, it allows the State Bar to have the CAPTCHA authorization appear only with anonymous users. This means that if the member or registered staff is logged in, they bypass the CAPTCHA step. Members should login to bypass CAPTCHA.

    CAPTCHA will expire after three minutes. That is, users must reenter a CAPTCHA phrase for searches that last more than three minutes. “Otherwise, human users can trigger harvesting programs to run after a CAPTCHA phrase is entered,” Novotny said.

    Again, State Bar members (and registered staff) can bypass CAPTCHA by simply logging into WisBar prior to conducting searches through WisBar’s Lawyer Search.


    The State Bar is committed to safeguarding member information. CAPTCHA adds a layer of protection against automated harvesting technology that could potentially capture information from Lawyer Search to be used for marketing other purposes.

    Questions about CAPTCHA, how to login to WisBar, or how to register a support staff member for a WisBar account should be directed to a State Bar Customer Service representative by email, or by phone at (608) 257-3838 or (800) 728-7788.

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