The Hazards of Following Short Links

These small links could be a big problem

A hyperlink with a pinter touching it

Adam Kaz / Getty Images

They're known as short links, shortened URLs, and Tiny URLs. Whatever you call them, their purpose is the same. Link shortening services such as Bitly, TinyURL, and over 200 others, allow users to take a link that might be too long to post within the confines of a Twitter post and generate a shorter link that redirects to the longer URL that the user wants to post.

Here's an Example

You could take a long link such as and use a link shortening service to make it into a nice short link that looks like

Not only does the link not look anything like the original, it completely obscures the intended link destination. There is no way by looking at the short link that you can tell what the intended target link is. All you see in the short link is the link shortening service site name followed by a string of seemingly random numbers and letters.

Why is this a bad thing? If an internet-based bad guy wanted to trick you into visiting a link that would install malware on your computer, you would be more likely to fall for clicking then you would be for clicking The tiny URL doesn't have anything in it that would tip you off to the fact that it is a malware link

Bad guys love using link shortening services to hide their malware links. Using link shortening to post malware and phishing links on social media sites is a very popular way to reach a wide audience of people who often click on things impulsively.

Can You Tell Where It Goes?

Before you click on that random short link you saw on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere, you should use a link expansion service to inspect it so you can decide whether its destination is somewhere you really want to go.

Fortunately, there are a couple of sites and tools that can help you learn where the hidden path of most any short link leads without having to visit it.

ChecShortURL is a link expansion service that lets you input a short link, such as the example above, and see what the destination link is without having to visit it. You simply copy the link you want to check out, go to the CheckShortURLcom site, paste the shortened link into the search field, and it will show the intended destination of the short link.

Short URLs aren't going away anytime soon. They make sense for when you are trying to stay within the character limits of Twitter posts, and they are just plain handy when you have some massive link that you are trying to read someone over the phone or in similar situations.

Hopefully, in the near future, we will see more browser integration for link preview expansion and maybe someday we will see destination link scanning, where the destination link is compared to a list of known bad URLs so we can be warned before we make the leap of faith to visit an unknown site.