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 email@example.com so it is simple for email harvesters to read web pages and look for the @ symbol as it seldom occurs anywhere on webpages 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
How to Protect Email Addresses
There are a series of steps you can take to protect any email addresses on your website from being harvested. These range from the simple to seriously complex and which method you should use depends on how much of a problem you have with harvesting.
Method 1 – Replacing the email address with a picture showing the email address
Method 2 – Separate the Email Address From the Website
The email address can be in a redirect statement
Method 3 – Mask the Email Address
This can be done by using HTML encoding e.g. using @ replaces the @ sign.
All characters can be encoded in this manner which makes the address difficult for the harvesters to find.
The address can be divided into several parts that are dynamically composed by the browser when the website is called up.
Method 5 – Use a Captcha
A CAPTCHA is a type of challenge–response test you can add to a website page to ensure it is being read by a person not by software.
These have become very common on many websites so most people are used to them now.
Method 6 – Use a Contact Form
Instead of posting an e-mail address on a web page, create a contact form. This can capture more information in a structured manner from the user and lets you hide the email address in a separate script file.
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