What are Spambots? How to deal with them?

This post will tell you what are Spambots and how you can  deal with them. In a line, Spambots are responsible for all that junk in your mail! Read on to find out what they are, how they work and how to stop spambots.

I remember disabling one of my email IDs just because it was not receiving anything but unsolicited mail. That was a month ago. Ever wondered how those people get your email ID to send you spam emails? Spam is generally, unwanted and unwarranted email(s). Let us see how spambots collect email IDs.

spambots

What are Spambots

Spambots are special programs that crawl the Internet for email addresses posted in social networking sites, discussion boards, comments, contact-us pages and elsewhere. Since the format of email ID is unique, it is easier to write programs to collect anything in that format.

It started from spambots looking for “mailto” (HTML expressions that are used for presenting email IDs on the web). One example could be <a href=”mailto: abc@xyz.com”>contact us</a>. In this example, the data following “mailto:” is the email ID. This would look Contact Us to the viewers and when clicked, opens your default email client with the email address in the To box.

While many people still use the “mailto” tag, others resorted to using words instead of symbols so that spambots do not understand them. For example, abc at xyz dot com. But if spambots can be programmed to harvest all data in the form of abc@xyz.com, then they can also be programmed to check for formats such as “abc at xyz dot com” or “abc[at]xyz[dot]com“.

In other words, spambots are programs that take into account all types of formats that can be used to display email addresses on the Internet and store it for spamming purposes.

The safest form is to use a graphic that contains your email address. Since it is a graphic, the spambots cannot read it. For example, you simply type your email address on MS Paint or Adobe Photoshop and use that graphic on your Contact Us page. However, forums and comment discussions do not always provide graphic usage in signature so not many can make use of this tip.

Spambots can be this defined as “automated programs that run (crawl) on the Internet to collect email addresses for a person or organization who can use the collected email addresses to send unsolicited (spam) email”.

How To Deal With Spambots

There are not many methods to deal with spambots. The best measure against spambots is not to post your email address anywhere on the Internet. But that is practically impossible these days, unless you do not want to be contacted by anyone. Somewhere or the other, you have to give out your email address – especially in these days of social sharing!

One of the measures against spambots is to use graphics as explained above. If it is a graphic, the spambot crawlers leave it, assuming it is not important. But again, using graphics on own websites is easy but public discussion boards/chat rooms, discussion forums, comment forms etc. do not allow you to post graphics. The graphic method fails in such cases.

Another method is to garble email address and render it properly only when the webpage is displayed. For example, the abc[break][at][break]xyz[break][dot][break]com is stored as different parts. Only when someone visits the website using and passing the captcha, the email address is arranged in a sequence and displayed.

One more method that is not yet broken is usage of ASCII characters instead of @ and dot symbols. For example, abc@xyz.com will be represented as abc&#64xyz.com. In the example, &#64 represents the @ sign. But this too is easy to crack once spambots are programmed to accept &#64 as @ sign. Plus, human visitors too may get confused and may not find it as your email address.

While posting email addresses in forums and comments, one can use munging. The method is to insert some characters in the email address that the human visitors can understand but not the spambots. One example could be abc[RemoveThisBeforeSending]@xyz.com. Another example could be “abc[at]xyz###.com (Remove # from the email ID before sending)”. The visitors will understand that the portion has to be removed while spambots will take the entire thing which won’t be of any use to harvester as emails sent to the whole ID will bounce. But this too, is a bit risky, as newbies to the computer field may get confused and may not be able to contact you.

One of the methods I have used is to use a separate email ID for giving away on the Internet in public and separate ones for home and work. Then, you can run filters on the public email ID to receive messages only from certain websites and forums. This takes a little work (creating the rule and updating it every time you give it out on a website) but works fine. The rule can be like: “Move incoming mail to Junk except if the sender is <website1>;<website2>;<forum1>”. That way, only genuine mail will reach your inbox while others go to the Junk folder. You may check the Junk folder frequently to see if the rule or the mail client transferred any important email to the Junk folder. If it did, you can add it to trusted senders or modify the related rule.

I hope you find the tips useful If you know more methods to prevent Spambots from picking up your email ID, please share with us.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN