Shortened URLs. How To Know If They Are Safe?
If you are a regular user of platforms like Twitter, you have surely noticed the proliferation of so-called shortened URLs. Although in principle they should not be dangerous, the truth is that by their very nature they could pose a risk to the safety of users. In this article, we tell you why and how to get to see the full web address of a shortened website.
What Are Shortened URLs?
A shortened URL is a web address that has fewer characters than the original web address but takes the user to the same web page.
The shortened web address will replace the original URL with a new, shorter, less descriptive address. Generally, original web addresses are made up of a series of words separated by hyphens that describe the content that the user is going to access. However, in shortened URLs, the URL extension is replaced by a random combination of letters and numbers that prevent the user from knowing for sure what content they are about to access.
Short URLs appeared at the beginning of the 21st century in mobile phone messaging services, and for a few years, they have also been very common on platforms and social networks such as Twitter. The reason is that they are very useful in this type of service that limits the number of characters that the user can use in each publication (in the case of Twitter, 140 characters).
There are a lot of tools to shorten URLs, some of the best known are Bitly, TinyURL, Google, and Adfly. Some of them also allow the user who creates them to generate income thanks to advertising.
What Are The Risks Of Following A Shortened URL?
The main risk factor for a user who clicks on one of these shortened links is that they do not know what URL they are accessing. For one thing, you can’t tell if it’s a legitimate website or if it’s the website, service, or platform you wanted to access. On the other hand, the URL extension also does not allow you to know what type of content the URL is going to direct you to.
However, if access to the said page is made through a shortened URL such as https://bit.ly/3cZhKLf, the user will not know
- The website or company accessed
- The content that is on that page.
This means that shortened URLs can be a vehicle for cybercriminals to trick users into accessing illegitimate web pages, with the bonus that the real web address will also not be displayed if the user hovers over the link.
These shortened URLs can be used by cybercriminals for various purposes, mainly leading the user to a malicious website. These malicious websites can be created for different purposes, such as installing malware on the user’s computer (viruses, Trojans, ransomware, adware), impersonating the user’s identity, or even accessing their bank accounts.
How To View A Shortened URL Without Opening It?
After knowing its possible risks, many of you will ask yourselves: what do I do if I receive a shortened URL? The most advisable thing is not to open it as a precaution since we do not know where it is going to lead us. Another option is to use some of the available tools to lengthen a URL or find out the actual web address it leads to.
Shortened URL Previewers
Some online tools and platforms allow you to decrypt a shortened URL and find out what its real content is. Many of these platforms not only show the actual URL but also a preview of the web page to be accessed.
Some of the online services that offer how to view a shortened URL are Unshorten.me, URL Expander or Virustotal.com
Websites And Extensions
On the other hand, there is the possibility of using browser extensions to decrypt these types of URLs and display the real web address. We recommend downloading these extensions always from the official pages of the browsers. Some of the best known are View Thru, LongURL, or Unshorten. link.
In short, shortened URLs are a tool that can be useful on platforms where the number of characters is limited and, in themselves, they do not have to be a negative thing. However, the fact that they hide the information of the web address to which they redirect is a risk factor that is best avoided.