Is that Shortened Link Safe?
In the past, security experts used to advocate the following when deciding if a URL is safe to click, avoiding scams and viruses:
- Hold your cursor over the link in the email or website
- If the preview of the URL does not match the URL link in the email or looks suspicious, you can be fairly sure it is a scam.
It is a habit that many savvy users have cultivated for every link in websites, emails and social platforms.
Unfortunately, the last few years has seen a explosion of what is called URL shortening, made more popular by Twitter. Since twitter had a 140 character limit, it was necessary to shorten links. These days, many links shared in social media platforms look like these: http://bit.ly/rBRzcZ, http://on.fb.me/sLYsWh.
According to a 2009 report by Cisco, they mentioned that shortened URLs are a growing security risk. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of these well intentioned services to mask and hide malicious sites. With the shortened URLs, it is now more difficult to determine if a URL is safe to click or not.
This becomes a challenge not just for consumers, but also for business and companies. Thankfully, both the URL shortening service providers, browsers, and internet security companies have tackled this head-on and provided many ways that users like you and me, can have more confidence in clicking shortened URLs.
Here are a few quick tips that you can use to help you become more discerning of the links you click.
Easy steps to a safe clicking environment!
- For bitly.com links, you can actually add a "+" to the end of that link to not only view the full URL, but also the statistics on it. So when you see a link like http://bit.ly/rBRzcZ , just add a "+" and go to http://bit.ly/rBRzcZ+. Go ahead and give it a try.
- When using TinyURL you can visit http://tinyurl.com/preview.php directly to preview your link before clicking. A second method is to place "preview." before tinyurl.com. For example http://tinyurl.com/chnq77c becomes http://preview.tinyurl.com/chnq77c.
- Install a trustworthy Internet Security product for your computer. Most modern security products today are able to scan short URLs, making it safer for your own use. Let them help you!
- Ensure the definitions of your anti-virus software is kept up to date.
- Make use of Facebook! You can actually use Facebook to see what lies behind that shortened URL . For example, just paste http://bit.ly/rBRzcZ into the status and you will see the preview of the link, with the actual domain name. (see figure 1 below)
- Greasemonkey's (a Firefox Add-on) and other browser scripts and extensions let some browsers automatically show the expanded link.
Figure 1: Using Facebook's link preview to check if a link is what it says it is.
Do not let shortened URLs hold you hostage. Fight back!