What Is Email Masking?

Email masking, also known as email obfuscation or email anonymization, is a technique used to protect the privacy and security of an email address. Email masking prevents email addresses from being scraped by the email harvesters and spambots that collect them for malicious purposes like spamming or phishing.

Methods of masking email addresses

Masking email addresses diverts incoming mail to the recipient’s true address while keeping it private. It’s commonly achieved by using a disposable email, forwarding addresses, or by using specialized masking services.

To mask an email address you can use:

A temporary email address

One of the simplest ways to mask an email address is by using a temporary address Instead of the one you normally use. A temporary email address, or a forwarding address, can be set up to redirect incoming emails to your actual inbox. This helps protect the actual email address from being exposed.

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Image-based masking 

Image-based masking can be useful when you need to share your email address with someone. Malicious third parties can use automated programs such as email harvesters to scrape public web pages or breached data sources for email addresses. Converting your email address into an image format instead of displaying it as plain text makes it more difficult for these programs to extract the information they’re after.

Text obfuscation

Another way to mask your email address from email harvesters is displaying it in a way that isn’t easily recognizable. You can do this by splitting the address with a space between the local part of the email address (before the “@” symbol) and the domain part (after the “@” symbol) or by replacing certain characters (such as @) with similar characters (such as [at]).

Here’s an example of a masked email using text obfuscation: john [at] example [dot] com (instead of john@example.com).

JavaScript encoding

Encoding the email address using JavaScript is another way to protect your email address from automated programs. JavaScript encoding makes it more challenging to extract your email address from a website’s source code by allowing you to generate the email address dynamically when the page is loaded or when a user interacts with it.  

An email masking service

An email masking service is a tool or service that helps you protect your email address by masking it for you. Such services usually do this by generating unique, disposable email addresses that automatically forward mail to your real email address. 

Some examples of email masking services include: 

  • Blur
  • EmailHide
  • Spamex
  • Firefox Relay

Email masking pros and cons

Pros

  • Privacy protection: Email masking helps safeguard your privacy by making it harder for spammers and scammers to harvest your actual email address. This reduces the risk of privacy breaches and unwanted emails.
  • Spam prevention: Email masking can significantly reduce the number of spam emails you receive. Automated programs that scrape websites for email addresses are less likely to capture your email if it’s obfuscated or encoded.
  • Reduced phishing risk: Phishing attacks are often targeted at individuals by sending them emails that appear to be from legitimate sources. Email masking can make it more difficult for attackers to obtain your real email address, reducing the risk of falling victim to phishing attempts.
  • Flexibility and control: With email masking, you have more control over where and how your email address is displayed. You can choose different masking methods depending on the platform and context, allowing you to adapt to different situations while maintaining your privacy.

Cons

  • User inconvenience: Email masking can create inconvenience for legitimate users who want to contact you. They may need to manually decipher or hand type the obfuscated email address, which can be time-consuming and inaccurate.
  • Communication barriers: Some forms of email masking, like image-based masking and JavaScript encoding, may pose accessibility challenges for users with visual impairments or those who rely on assistive technologies. It may limit their ability to access and communicate with you.
  • Increased complexity: Implementing email masking techniques can add complexity to a website’s or application’s development. It may require additional coding and maintenance or integration with third-party tools, which can be a challenge for developers.

False sense of security: While email masking can reduce the risk of spam and phishing attacks, it’s not a guaranteed solution. Determined attackers can still find ways to bypass masking techniques or target other vulnerabilities. It’s important to complement email masking with other security measures, such as strong passwords and email filtering.

Updated on: June 5, 2023

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