Link-shortening services are more widely used every day, and very useful to turn a very long website address into a tiny URL
that’s a better fit for social media, email, and mobile use — but it’s
important to be aware that shortened links can also hide a security
risk, and stay safe by knowing how to preview a shortened link's destination before you click through to a bad web page!
Because a shortened URL cloaks or hides the link’s destination, it
can be used to fool you into visiting a web page that’s “not safe for
work,” or an affiliate sales page. That’s an annoyance, sure, but a
cloaked link could do much worse — take you to a virus-infected site or
straight to an executable file that tries to install some sort of malware on your computer.
Most shortened links have been shortened for convenience, not for devious or malicious reasons, but if you’re at all in doubt —
Before you click on a shortened link, consider the source.
If you know the person who has sent you the link, that’s a good start to staying safe.
But a known source is not an absolute guarantee of safety.
Links spread like gossip, and the origins may be lost in a maze of online sharing long before the link reaches you.
The fact is, some people do forward links to their friends or share
links on social networks without ever having checked out the site for
themselves, for a variety of reasons and often with the best of
Check it out for yourself.
The only way to know for sure where a shortened URL might lead you is to preview the destination website before you click the link. Some Twitter clients, such as TweetDeck (Mac, Windows, Linux) and Nambu (Mac) will show you a preview of shortened links from most of the major services. And a growing number of social networks and social media platforms will
automatically expand any short URLs or give you an easy way to check
out the links for yourself — FriendFeed, for example, automatically expands most links — but you’ll want to have another trick or two up your sleeve:
LongURLPlease, LongURL, and PreviewLink
are Firefox browser extensions that automatically preview the
destination URL for shortened links from just about any shortener you
can name. Bit.ly has a Firefox add-on,
too, that not only previews bit.ly links but also those from other
major services, and checks to see if there’s a existing bit.ly link to
the same page (and if there is, you can see the click-through stats for
Web-based Link Preview Tools
LongURL also has a web-based tool
to expand any shortened link — enter the shortened URL and click to
find out where the link will lead. Other web-based link-previewng tools
like this are available at PrevURL, ExpandMyURL, URL Snoop, Securi.net, PreviewLink.
(For more details on using these and other link-previewing tools, see Social @ Blogging Tracker's 12 Ways to Reveal Suspicious Shortened URLs.)
And if you find that you only need to check out the occasional link,
here are quick shortcuts to see a preview for some common types of
short URLs — just change the original link as noted:
Add “info/” after the “bit.ly/” part of the link:
e.g. change http://bit.ly/p0n5 to http://bit.ly/info/p0n5
Add a question mark to the end of the link:
e.g. change http://budurl.com/wd34 to http://budurl.com/wd34?
Add a hyphen to the end of the link:
e.g. change http://is.gd/42S0V to http://is.gd/42S0V-
Snipurl, Sn.im, Snipr, or Snurl
Add “peek.” to the beginning of the link:
e.g. change http://snipurl.com/sdnpr to http://peek.snipurl.com/sdnpr
TinyURLMany of the major shortening services recognize the growing security
concerns around cloaked links and offer previews for shortened links,
and are integrating a preview feature. (Sadly, my own current favourite
web-based Twitter manager, HootSuite, has not yet introduced a preview feature for ow.ly,
its own link-shortening service.) Every time Hotmail users are infected
en masse by malicious spam, or Twitter and Facebook are hit by a
phishing scam, the perils of shortened URLs become clear to more and
more web users — but the sheer convenience factor
almost guarantees that the use of shortened links will keep on growing. Best learn to
stay safe, and know where you’re clicking to!
Add “preview.” to the beginning of the link:
e.g. change http://tinyurl.com/2qcgdn to http://preview.tinyurl.com/2qcgdn
(Alternatively, you can save time by visiting http://tinyurl.com/preview.php
and setting a cookie in your browser (one click!) that means in future
you’ll automatically be taken to the preview page whenever you click on
a TinyURL-shortened link.)
What tools do you use to preview shortened URLs?