Obfuscate! How to Cut Down on Spam from Your Own Website

A July 2009 Technology Review article talks about the work of spam researchers from Indiana University. Some of key bits of information are:

  • Probably more than 90 percent of the email messages traversing the Internet are spam, according to MessageLabs.
  • Email addresses included in comments posted to popular websites were more likely to be picked up by spambots and to result in spam.

But also:

  • Using a simple obfuscation technique like replacing the @ with “-at-” works “surprisingly well” against email harvesting, according to researcher Craig Shue.
  • Submitting an email address to a legitimate website rarely resulted in spam. “If you go to less reputable sites, then you will get spam,” said Shue.

Fast Smart Web Design generally obfuscates emails on the websites we set up for our clients–what appears on the client’s Contact Us page, for example, is a mailto link on something like “emailname at hostname.com.”

Sometimes the client complains that the email doesn’t work (“You used ‘at’ instead of the @ sign!”). But after a little digging, we usually find that the person trying to use the link hasn’t chosen an email system with which to send an email from the web page. Each browser—Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox—has an option or preference for picking the email program you want to use.

For example, in Firefox, under the Tools menu, pick Options, then go to the Applications tab. Scroll down to “Mailto” and pick your favorite email program. Sometimes this solves the problem. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I don’t know why yet. (Anybody have any clues?)



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