How do you know if a shortened link is safe?

How do you know if a shortened link is safe?

November 18, 2014

At this point in (digital) life, you’ve probably come across one of them at some point. Yes or yes. In social networks they are everywhere. We are talking about shortened links.

They are useful, and a lot. In a tweet, for example, characterized by the famous 140 character limitation, a shortened URL gives room to write something else. And in addition to that advantage, its use has other characteristics, and one of them has become a double-edged sword: the surprise factor comes into play, since you do not know where it will take you.

It is from here when you have to walk with lead feet. A shortened link appears before our eyes as a mystery. We do not know which website it will take us to, or what will appear on our screens. Thus, shortened URLs become a true paradise for malware and phishing. You click and you are lost.

Above all, do not panic. Just because they cross your path on Twitter every day and may contain a nasty surprise doesn’t mean they are all a time bomb. Some caution and common sense can help you avoid a catastrophe on your computer.

To begin with, be very careful with the source that the URL puts before your eyes. If it is a media or a blog that tweets the headline of an article and a link, the logical thing is that the link takes you to that article. Click without fear. However, if you find a message from someone you know (or even a stranger) who says “How well you look in this photo!” and a shortened link, better suspicion.

As for the multiple services used to shorten links, some tend to be more reliable than others. For example, Google and Bit.ly services are more secure, but not sufficiently secure that you can safely click on them if the source is unknown.

Infallible tools

Using common sense is a good first filter to decide whether to DJ or not, but it is not foolproof either. Luckily, a good handful of tools allow you to lengthen shortened links or, in other words, see what is really behind each link. You will have killed the surprise factor, but thanks to these methods you will not have to put your hands to your head later.

For starters, a little trick if you come across links from Bit.ly or the Google shortener. Copy the link, paste it into your browser bar and, before hitting ‘Enter’, add the “+” symbol. This is the way to see the statistics associated with that URL, which will allow you to know which website it leads to, among other things.

Beyond this little trick, an extension in your browser or a visit to a website that solves the mystery may be more than enough to prevent a cybercriminal from giving us a poisoned gift within an appetizing ‘link’.

Websites like LongURL or Unshorten.it do the exact opposite of a link shortener. Enter in these web pages the shortened URL that generates doubts and you will see where it takes you exactly.

However, these are not the only systems to clear the shadows over the shortened links that we see every day on social networks. In fact, the most comfortable option is to install an extension in the browser, to know the destination of the shortened links without having to constantly consult one of the websites that we mentioned before.

Whether you use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, there is a solution to tackle the problem of the mysterious contents of a shortened link.

image006For Firefox, we can use the browser version of Unshorten.it. If the web lengthened the links by inserting them in a window, the Firefox extension does the same, saving us a few seconds. Instead of opening a tab in the browser and copying and pasting the URL, with this extension we will only have to click with the right mouse button on the shortened link and choose a new option that will appear in the menu: ‘Unshorten this link’ .

If your browser is Google Chrome, you will not be short of options. This is the case of LongURL (yes, the version for the Google browser of the web we were talking about), a plug-in that displays all the information regarding the shortened link – URL included – when hovering the mouse over it.

Even so, whichever method you choose, you will still have to use common sense to decide whether the site is ultimately legit or not. When you lengthen a link and the name of the website it takes you to does not sound like anything to you or, directly, it appears before your eyes with an incomprehensible web address, it is best that you be cautious and do not enter. In this case, the saying is totally true. Better safe than sorry.

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