E-mail address obfuscation is the practice of concealing your e-mail address from spammers or harvesters while maintaining the ability to freely publish your e-mail address to publicly-accessible electronic forums.
One tool that spammers use to collect e-mail addresses are harvesters. Harvesters are automated programs that crawl webpages and record email addresses that they find for later use as targets for spam. The idea behind e-mail address obfuscation comes from the desire to thwart these address harvesters yet maintain accessibility by being able to publish your e-mail address to newsgroups, web pages, and discussion boards.
Keep in mind that address obfuscation is not a perfect technique. Any obfuscation technique can (and very well may) be reverse-engineered. The techniques described below are not foolproof, but by employing any of these examples you can help keep your e-mail address hidden from harvesters, and thus may decrease the amount of spam you recieve.
The sort of address obfuscation you should use will depend mainly on the forum to which you wish to post your e-mail address. An e-mail address that is published on a web page, for example, may require different obfuscation than would an address being published to a newsgroup.
Manual obfuscation for newsgroups, e-mail, etc: This method is the least complex of all as it involves only a simple manual alteration of your e-mail address. The disadvantage of this method is that it requires interpretation and correction before someone can recover your email address, and is thus subject to error. For example, if your e-mail address is: email@example.com, then your manually obfuscated address could be spelled out as:
- postmaster at unc dot edu
where the actual address is really: firstname.lastname@example.org
A simple obfuscator will use a program to generate source code that is difficult for harvesters to collect, but looks and works like an ordinary link to the user. All you have to do is paste the generated code into your HTML document. The benefit of this method is that any browser can interpret and use your e-mail address.
- Link to obfuscator program
An image file that contains your e-mail address as a picture can be easily created and used as part of your signature file. Small .gif or .jpg files are perfect formats as most browsers and graphical email programs recognize these natively. This method will be very difficult for harvesters to collect, but will require a remote party to interpret and type your address before they can send you mail, as this format is not conducive to cut-and-paste. You can create this file using the MS-Paint or MS-Word program.