Exercise Caution When Using Shortened Urls

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Everything is getting smaller these days. Video cameras have shrunk from shoulder-top monstrosities to hand-held units. Music has been slowly getting smaller in size ... from vinyl records to CDs to invisible MP3s. And cell phones are now roughly the size of a credit card.

Our words are getting smaller, too. We now communicate in less than 140 characters on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Less has become more. Because of our newly formed pension for saving space, Web developers have come up with creative ways to share links and information in as few characters as possible. Link shortening tools, such as bit.ly, tinyurl, and ow.ly, have allowed users to develop a quick redirect to any site in a fraction of the space.

For example, a link that used to span across an entire page: http://www.paysonroundup.com/news/2010/jul/16/iphone-4-reception-problems-teach-us-lesson/ can now be shortened to something like this: http://bit.ly/a1gWfg. This is a very handy tool to use when sending links to friends or posting a link on a blog or Twitter/Facebook post.

But, just like every good thing, the hackers have found a way to exploit it. Most Internet users have (hopefully) learned to check URLs for suspicious end destinations. With a shortened URL, however, it is difficult to determine where you will be sent, and hackers have jumped on the bandwagon. Many shortened URLs have been created to send you to sites laden with viruses and/or scams.

There are tools to help you determine the end destination of URLs. If you aren’t sure of a link’s origins (or who created it), it’s probably a good idea to check where it will be sending you. This includes links that have been posted by strangers or even links from friends who may have received them via a retweet.

Sites such as expandmyurl.com or longurlplease.com are great tools to get a glimpse of what site you’ll be visiting. They are fast, easy, and totally efficient. Just plug in the shortened URL and you will see the entire expanded destination address. Then you can look for clues that this may not be a site you want to visit ... pay careful attention to the domain (the area in front of the .com).

If you have questions about link expansion or setting up security measures on your computer, call Computer Problem Specialists at (928) 468-0000 for a free consultation.

Get in the habit of checking URLs before you visit a site. Everything is getting smaller these days, but that doesn’t have to include your bank account and/or sanity.

Daniel Taft is the senior network administrator and member/owner of Computer Problem Specialists, LLC with a degree in applied computer science. His career spans more than 20 years.

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