A New Image for Your Email Address

John Graham-Cumming, author of Bayesian spam filter POPFile, points me to a neat tool he’s created which will turn an email address into an image that may spare you some spam from bots scouring web pages for email addresses:

This site converts a text-based email address (such as me@example.com) and creates an image that can be inserted on a web site. The image contains the email address and is easily read by a human, but is intended to fool web crawlers that search for email addresses.

I can’t guarantee that this is foolproof, but Project Honeypot reports that image obfuscation of an email address is very effective (they say 100%) against web crawlers.

Enter your email address in the box and the server returns a string of gobbledygook which contains the email address (padded with a large amount of random data to avoid a dictionary attack) encrypted using a key known only to the server. When the image is loaded into the web page the server decrypts the email address and creates the image. (The email address is not stored by the server; it resides only in the HTML on your website.)

 Here’s what mine looks like:

Made using jeaig

If you need to put a contact address on your webpage or blog, but hate the amount of spam you’re getting, it’s worth a try.

Technorati Tags: , ,

How To Cripple A Customer In The Name Of Spam Catching

Why does a hosting service remove features in the name of improved service?

After a lot of toing and froing, I’ve realised why a lot of emails being sent to me were bouncing. It’s because my hosting company, Hostway, have upgraded all their domains to an Advanced Mail Service, which offers extra spam and anti-virus features. Unfortunately, they have in the process removed a feature that was my own anti-spam service, using something called Catch-All Aliases. And now I’m stuck in email hell.

An ‘alias’ is an email address that you set up that doesn’t really have its own account, it merely routes through to an existing account. So, say my email address is joe@bloggs.com, I could add an extra email address — an alias — for enquiries to sales@bloggs.com. In fact me and sales are the same people, and the emails end up in the same place, but it’s useful for me to offer a second address to a) impress people, b) let my email program sort them into separate folders to keep, say, business and pleasure separate.

That’s the alias bit. The ‘Catch-All’ bit occurs when you send an email to an address that doesn’t exist at bloggs.com. So say I sent an email to brian@bloggs.com. Now brian doesn’t exist, or has left the company. But if I had set my joe@bloggs.com address to be the default, Catch-All address, that email would end up in my inbox, just like the sales email. The advantage of this? Well, there are several. Brian’s emails don’t get lost, just because his email account has been deleted, or someone misspelled his name. But it also means you can give out any email address you like to websites, mailing lists or individuals and let your email filters do the work. So, for example, any Google email alert you sign up for could be given the email address google@bloggs.com, so that you could set up your email filter to move all those emails into one place. Any email alert from Factiva could go to factiva@bloggs.com. You don’t have to registered any of these email addresses. They just end up in your default email box. But by setting up a filter, your email program can look inside the header, see it was addressed to ‘google@bloggs.com’ and funnel it through to a folder called Google alarts. Neat.

Not just that. If one of these virtual email addresses falls into the hands of spammers, you have a pretty good idea of who gave it away and can give them a hard time. In short, Catch-All Aliases are a great way to keep control of your inbox. I used them all the time, and must have set up more than 150 of them on the fly. The beauty of them is you don’t have to do any setting up; you can make up a name on the spot, and then when an email comes in with that address in the header field, you can decide what kind of filter to apply to it.

Not any more. Hostway have this week decided to ditch Catch-All Aliases. The tech guy tells me it’s because they were creating too much spam. (This is when spammers just blast lots of emails at bloggs.com with any old combination of letters and digits before the @ sign. If there’s a catchall address all these emails get through.) Now spam is a problem for hosters, I can appreciate. But to make a move like this, without allowing the user any chance to opt out of such a change, is to me extraordinary. I had a good antispam system going. I didn’t need their service. But I didn’t have any choice.

Now in the short term I’m left with the chaos of trying to remember what aliases I’ve come up with over the past few years and physically adding those addresses to my list of registered aliases on Hostway’s configuration page. In the longer term, of course, I’m going to be looking for another hosting company. Any recommendations?

Bottom line here, is the cost of spam to people like Hostway must be making them buckle and pushing them into illconsidered moves like this. But I would beg other companies to ponder deeply before removing features that their customers may really, really need. If I were in business I would be losing customers every time an email to me bounced. As it is I am going to be registering aliases deep into the night and hunting for a new home for my domains. Not how I planned to spend my time.