To build up lists of email addresses that can be sold to spammers and scammers, hackers run software that scans websites and looks for email addresses.
This is called email harvesting and is done on a huge scale.
The hackers typically scan websites, mailing lists, internet forums, social media platforms and anywhere else they can find email addresses online.
The characteristic format for an email address is firstname.lastname@example.org so it is simple for email harvesters to read web pages and look for the @ symbol as it seldom occurs anywhere on web pages except in an email address.
The harvesters can also check for unusual variations on that theme e.g. User[at]domain.com or User[AT]domain[DOT]com
In web pages, an email link is generally of the format ‘mailto:email@example.com’ so these can easily be spotted and added to their list by the harvesters.
Many web developers try to stop this happening by disguising any email links such as by displaying the email address as a picture that the user must then type in the address to their email system or by encoding some or all of the letters in the email address.
e.g. “A” is letter A, “@” is letter B and so on.
The simplest approach is to use a contact form instead of an email address link. His works for one email address but not so applicable if you have lots of email address links on the same page.
There are many more ways to hide email address links from harvesters, but whatever you try – make sure not to have such addresses showing in clear text.
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