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Is that Shortened Link Safe?
by | 10 January 2012 | Home Internet Users Shortened Link

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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. Ensure the definitions of your anti-virus software is kept up to date.
  5. 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)
  6. 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!



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