10 Aug 2006

Spam proof way?

What is common with all the following email addresses?

john22 [at] hotmail [dot] com
laura_elite87 {at} gmail (dot) com
jacob87 AT yahoo DOT com

All of them are attempts by people to protect their email addresses from spambots, when they have to display them in forums and blogs. Apparently many people feel secure when the ”@” and ”.” in their email addresses are replaced by “at” and “com” respectively.

Yet, I did a small experiment with Google, Yahoo! and MSN search engines which showed that in reality, posting your email addresses on the web in such crude ways might be no safer than just posting it normally. Here is why:

Searching for the term “at hotmail dot com” in Google, produced about 1,970,000 results. In almost all the results, the term “at hotmail dot com” was actually a part of a genuine email address.

Search for the same term in Yahoo! and MSN produced 1,720,000 and 432,889 results respectively.

If you want more statistics, the term “at yahoo dot com” produced 2,780,000 results and “at gmail dot com” produced another 5,570,000 results in Google.

Anyone with a decent understanding of regular expressions will know now how easy it will be to extract and harvest these email addresses for spamming.

Protecting your email addresses this way is not too different from protecting the confidential contents of a website with JavaScript based username/password system (when I was a kid, I used to do it and was actually quite proud of it for some time).

You can keep the amateurs and kids away, but not the spammers.

Here is my two cents. Search for your email address. If you find it, find better ways of making it spam proof or remove it if it is no longer needed.

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