How Not To Obfuscate Email Addresses – SourceForge Edition

I like to be active in the open source community. I join mailing lists, help where I can, and am of course always on the lookout for interesting topics of conversation. A lot of the mailing lists I subscribe to are run by Sourceforge. It’s a great site and it fosters a lot of good projects.

The problem is, I don’t much like spam, which is why I’m amazed with what I found today. I went to the mailing list page for one of the projects I work on as I wanted to hyperlink to a specific discussion so that people who aren’t subscribed to the mailing list can read a specific email discussion.

I was happy to see that SourceForge obfuscates the email addresses in the table shown on screen. For example, my name and email address comes up as ‘Jonathan Giles <[email protected]…>’ at the start of each email. ‘Great’, I thought, until I went to click on the url to the email I wanted to bring up. It has the rest of my email as part of the url. To test this out, I went to the SourceForge front page, chose the current ‘project of the month’ (ehcache), and went to the mailing list. Lo and behold, with the mildest of mental stimulation I could easily ascertain every email address. If I were a little bit unscrupulous, I could quite easily write a spider to crawl SourceForge and build a highly targeted spam list (highly targeted as we know the population is almost entirely developers).

As an example (and all apologies to picking on one person), I offer Jason Novotny’s email address, derived as such:

  • Jason Novotny <[email protected]…> is shown as his details attached to any message.
  • The URL to one of his messages is this.

The important part of that url is this:
[email protected]pinksheets.com.

Notice the @pi…. matches up with @pinksheets.com. Poor Jason, and poor anyone who uses SourceForge and doesn’t much appreciate spam. It’s probably no wonder I receive so much email along the lines of ‘Cheap OEM Software!!!1! Photoshop $1!!!’ – they know I am a software person.

I wrote this blog post in the hope that the SourceForge people would fix this, but of course, I’m realistic – I’m just one person. If you don’t like your email address being so readily gleaned from SourceForge, let them know – link them to this post if you want.

Disclaimers:

  1. Of course, I’m aware of the hypocrisy of this – after all, my email address is pretty well published over there to the right. But the web is not just me – and I’m sure some people want to be a little more guarded than I am.
  2. Also, I’m well aware that posting to a public mailing list removes any hope of your email address remaining private, but the ease with which a spider could crawl SourceForge is quite amazing. Signing up to mailing lists requires a bit more cunning for a spammer to collect.

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