One of the best pieces of advice that I can give to people on how to protect themselves online is this: Don’t click random unknown links. A malicious link can lead to malware infection, identity theft, or a phishing attempt. Things can get really tricky if the link you are about to click is hidden behind a shortened URL. Read on to learn more and to find out how to protect yourself.
What is a Redirect?
A redirect is actually code that sends you to a different URL than you originally intended to go to. Redirects are extremely common because of how helpful they can be. For example, you want to go to a page on your favorite website. Unfortunately the page you are attempting to visit is down. That would be a problem except the owner of the website inserted a redirect that instructs your browser to load a similar page. You are able to accomplish whatever you had planned, all without running into an error message. That is just one example of how redirects can be beneficial.
What is a Shortened URL?
Shortened URLs are URLs that have been made smaller in size using a URL shortener. I know, it’s a pretty obvious definition. That’s what it is though. Anyone can create one using any URL. Here is an example:
Original URL: https://techmarksthespot.com/
Shortened URL: https://is.gd/tmtstech
Both of the above URLs send you to the same page.
A URL shortener shortens a URL and then when someone enters it into their browser or clicks its link redirects them to the original URL. All of this is pretty handy because it makes URLs fit more easily wherever you want to use them whether it be on a resume, in a tweet, or on your social media profile.
Here are some popular URL shorteners:
The Risk of Shortened URLs
All of this is useful and convenient but like any technology there can be inherent risks. The security risk comes into play when the bad guys decide to use a URL shortner to try to trick you into going to a malicious website. Here are some examples:
- Shortened URLs that lead you to a scammer’s site.
- Shortened URLs that take you to a website that infects your computer with malware.
- Shortened URLs that lead you to a phishing site.
The trouble is that you only see the shortened URL, not the original one. Unless you get the link from a trusted source you never really know for sure where you are going to be directed to.
How to Protect Yourself From Malicious Shortened URLs
With a good URL checker you can peek behind the curtain at where that shortened URL is really going to take you. That is where Redirect Tracker by Website Planet comes in.
Here is how to use it:
Go to the Redirect Tracker site.
Enter the shortened URL in the search field.
Click the Track URL button.
View your results.
Here is the information it gave me on the URL that I checked:
The result given was a positive one because the shortened URL directs you to the Tech Marks the Spot website. If on the other hand it were to direct you to a malicious website the results would let you know that as well.
One of the most important things that you can do to keep yourself secure online is to avoid clicking random links. With shortened URL checkers like Redirect Tracker by Website Planet you can protect yourself through avoiding them. Give it a try and let me know what you think down in the comments.