Short links or shortened URLs have become a widespread method to share various web links across web sources such as social media. Unlike regular and long URLs, it is much more challenging to determine the website the short link will redirect to and if it is a legit web source. Some short links may redirect to legitimate web sources such as YouTube videos, while others could redirect you to rather unsavory and dangerous websites. So, are short links safe?
Short links, although helpful on social media platforms to share a link without it taking up much space, are not always safe. Some short links are legit, likely if shared by reputable sources, while others, such as those sent in private messages, can you lead you to malware-ridden or phishing sites.
Although short links are handy to share long links, or URLs, over social media by reputable news sources, such as Forbes, to save on characters on social media platforms, such as Twitter, some may be malicious. It is best to use short links with caution as a result of the fact that they may redirect to dangerous web sources. Luckily, there are methods to determine if a shortened link will go to a safe web source.
Is It Safe For You To Click On Short Links?
Short links are both a blessing and a curse in the internet universe. Short links, or URLs, are when a web address, also known as a URL, is shortened into a small link that redirects to a website with a long URL. In my experience, I have seen YouTube making use of this technique when you share videos onto other social media websites, such as Twitter and Instagram.
Short links get used when sharing legitimate content like YouTube videos over Twitter because of many social media character limitations. Sharing a shortened link to a platform like Twitter helps you not go over the character limitations of the social media platform.
Unfortunately, it has been abused on the internet because you cannot often see from the link which URL it will redirect. Malicious people who employ phishing scams or try to spread malware have too used it to their advantage to catch unsuspecting victims.
Why Can Short Links Be Dangerous?
Short links can be dangerous as they do not show easily where the shortened URL redirects to. Although they can be legitimate, such as Forbes, for example, who can use a shortened link to share one of their articles over Twitter, which limits how many characters you can use, they can also be used for malicious methods.
Cybercriminals often use short links to trick unsuspecting victims into clicking on shortened links to redirect them to a phishing scam. This incident often happens over private messages over platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. On these platforms, these cybercriminals often pose as a legitimate business in doing so.
A few years ago, I was nearly a victim of a phishing scam. One day I received an odd message on WhatsApp from someone posing as a legitimate airline consultant who attempted to get me to click on a short link to get a discount at the airline they supposedly represented. Knowing better and seeing it was a shortened link from someone I did not know in person; I knew better and did not click it.
Others, unfortunately, are not educated on the dangers of short links. Many family members of mine have unfortunately fallen victim to clicking on malicious shortened links. A close family member of mine got his entire computer infected with malware by clicking on a malicious short link. I had to help him clean his computer of malware afterward and educate him on the dangers of shortened links.
How To Determine Whether A Short Link Is Safe To Use?
Luckily there are methods to determine whether short links are safe to visit or not. There are online services that can reveal the shortened link’s origin before you visit the link. Most of these services can even help you determine whether the short link redirects to a long web link that is the source of a safe website. Tools such as VirusTotal come in handy here.
VirusTotal is a website that works as a tool to analyze a URL, or web link, whether long or shortened, to check if it is legitimate. It does this by running the website link through a bunch of different antivirus tools such as Bitdefender and Kaspersky to determine if these tools pick up phishing scams or malware. What is nice about VirusTotal as well is that it reveals where the shortened link will redirect.
I often use VirusTotal to determine if any web links, including short links, are safe to visit. It is also the tool that I use to determine where the short link redirects too.
Services That You Can Use To Check If A Short Link Is Legit
There are other tools, including VirusTotal, that can help you determine where the short link redirects to and if it is a safe web source:
- VirusTotal – An online website that acts as a tool to analyze URLs, or web links, to check whether they are free of malware or phishing scams.
- Norton Safe Web – This is another website belonging to the reputable cybersecurity service Norton, which analyzes a URL and determines whether it is reputable or not. Users also contribute to this service their ratings and review of the website to help you decide whether the shortened link is worth visiting.
- Google Transparency Report – This is an online service owned by Google that functions similarly to the two services above. This service too analyzes the URL or web link and determines whether it is reputable. It will also provide warnings for you if there are potential dangers of malware on the website.
Short links are helpful when sharing long links, or URLs, to social media with character limitations. Unfortunately, the shortened link does not reveal by itself where it will redirect to before you enter it into your web browser. This reason is why cybercriminals, who pose as legitimate organizations, have used short links to lure unsuspecting victims into downloading malware onto their computers or putting them in a phishing scam through the use of short links.
Luckily, there are tools, like VirusTotal, to help you determine whether the short link redirects to a legitimate website and the origins of said website.