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Email Harvesting

Email harvesting of website contact pages has been considered an illegitimate business for almost 4 years now. The practice involves automatic scripts that look through WebPages and look for the “@” symbol. The harvesting programmers make these tools to take every character after the “@” until they hit a space and then every character before the “@” until they hit a space (or some other marker).


From these lists, they can then develop a spamming (or marketing) database and these lists can change hands for large sums of money.


Once you are on one of these lists, it is very difficult to get back off it. It takes considerable time.


The best protection is to limit who has cultivated your address and stop new harvesters getting your details.


The most common way to get caught out is to have your email contact details on your or a partners website, in clear text. You can tell if the address is in clear text if you can drag your mouse over the email address and “cut+paste” it into notepad or word. These types of clear text email addresses can be easily gathered and harvested. The best way to see if your email address is out there in the wider world is by checking it in a text indexer like the Google search website. Typing in “@websitedomain.com.au” into Google will produce any resulting websites that has your address on it as clear text. Google is only a guide. It is not the definitive way to find all locations as Google do not index every page they come across.


Some programmers have made things harder by actually reading the website code (called html or ASP etc) and looking within it for the @ symbol. Even though on the website it might appear simply as a link called “email us” in the background it might still have the email address clearly written in a way that can be harvested. The tools look through the raw code, not as we do, nicely formatted with images in Internet Explorer etc.


There are two main steps to help protect you from this type of harvesting.


  •       Don’t use clear text for email addresses on websites. Either use a link like “Email Us” or an image containing the email address. In this way, the website visitor will not know your real address or they might be able to see it but as an image, they can’t cut and paste it into something else like a spam database.

  •       Don’t use text email addresses in the website code. Don’t use text email addresses for the image tags on the website. Either have your developers spend some time making the code encrypted in some way or use a post back form where the server back at the website host has the email address and it is never published to the outside world.


Following these two general rules should see you protected from further email harvesting.









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