Just the other day, I received a Twitter DM :
I’m not familiar with the user, also a bit skeptic towards the link. Normally I would just pass but my curiosity prompt me to dig deeper. It doesn’t take long to reveal the actual location, yeah, some money-making site. Not a fan so let’s end the story here. But I got a valuable lesson that day, know what it is?
Spam, Phishing & Malware Triggered Links in Disguise!
Oh yes, malicious sites transforming themselves into friendly little shortened URLs, waiting to be clicked! Have you not noticed the recent phishing and hijacking cases via click-fraud?? Nah.. it doesn’t seem like something that’ll happen to us, right? WRONG! I don’t know about you, but I find myself getting a little too comfortable with the links sending my way. I figured there’s a need to spread a little awareness about such matter.
No Worries! I Know How To Deal With It! (but.. Are You??)
So we were told that Twitter is going to block those bad URLs. Great effort, but doesn’t mean we should take this lightly. If you were like me, once thought the below methods are enough to solve our problems than think again:
a. Twitter Search Expand Feature
We LOVE the ‘expand’ feature! Safe and ease to use. Blame me for being the party pooper but not all URL shorteners could be revealed. Don’t believe me? try them out:
Cli.gs / Tr.im / Su.pr / Digg.com / Ow.ly / Tweak.tk
b. Tweetdeck URL Preview Feature
Tweetdeck allows previewing for the link before navigates. Looks safe enough, but what if the link was converted from another shortened URL? It will be displayed as above, the original site address is untraceable, unless you check it manually.
c. FriendFeed Shows Complete URLs
This is much better. FriendFeed shows the complete URLs for all the updates. But what if the link was sent to you via Twitter’s Direct Message? It won’t be shown in the public conversation. How do you go from there? Obviously we need more help than we think.
12 Ways To Expand/Preview Suspicious Shortened URLs
Call me busybody, but I actually checked these 12 apps for the task with below URL Shorteners, sorry I can’t cover ALL that existed. Here’s the overall results I got:
I grouped the URL Shorteners for easier explanations:
Category A (common) : tinyurl, bit.ly, cli.gs, tr.im, is.gd
Category B (new/framed etc) : su.pr, digg, owly, tweak.tk
**well what do you know, seems like my previous blog posts still appear in good old Blogger template :-)**
i) Powerful Pack (GREEN): Detectable for ALL category A & B.
**Update: The domain is no longer available. Service terminated.**
- thumbnail to preview the original web page.
- comes with ‘search plugin’ to be installed on your browser. Just copy and paste the shortened URL in the box and hit ‘search’to be brought to the PrevURL site.
- thumbnail to preview web page.
- plugin available for Firefox: Long URL Mobile expander 2.0.0 (will be discussed in plugin section later).
- no thumbnail or plugin yet works like a charm. Simple and easy to navigate.
ii) Medium pack (YELLOW): Works perfectly well with category A; minor limitations for B
- no thumbnail previewing.
- special feature: to check whether the real web page is blacklisted via Google Safebrowsing and Siteadvisor.
- has problem detecting Digg.com-shortened URL with question mark ‘?’ in the midst – for example: http://digg.com/d3ym80?t (10/10 trial attempts).
- Simple page layout without preview.
- Unable to detect Ow.ly.
- allows thumbnail preview.
- bookmarklet available. When clicked, all shortenened URLs on that particular page will expand themselves to original web addresses.
- Minor setbacks: To ensure the link converts successfully, preferably paste the shortened URL on top of your web browser then hit ‘Enter’, instead of the ‘Unshorn it’ box’.For Instance: http://unshortn.com/http://su.pr/2gdfR1
- Unable to detect Su.pr.
- simple layout with thumbnail preview. No bookmarklet available.
- unable to detect Digg.com
- no plugins or preview feature.
- Unable to retrieve site shortened by Digg.com
- provides bookmarklet on browser: revealing the traceable shortened URLs with green colour. When clicked will redirect to expandmyurl for URL expansion.
- Unable to reveal sites shortened by Tweak.tk.
** ExpandMyURL has improved their service to enable shortening for : Su.pr, Ow.ly. A fantastic improvement to promote them from limited to medium pack. Thanks to Alex for the updating mentioned in the comment below. Good job. **
iii) Limited Pack (ORANGE): Works well with Category A; Seriously lacking for B detections.
- provides multiple add-ons from bookmarklet, firefox plugin to firefox search.
- unable to retrieve sites from Su.pr, Digg.com
- once installed and enabled, reveals the actual location for the shortened URLs. Works perfectly in Twitter, Facebook etc.
- mostly it is effective in expanding Digg.com, but occasionally not.
- unable to retrieve: Tweak.tk
- when hover the mouse over the link, actual web address will be revealed.
- unable to retrieve: Su.pr, Tweak.tk.
What About URL converted from URL Shortener:
Original URL detectable for most applications above. Except for these 3: Sucuri, Urlsnoop & Unshortn.
For example, I’ve shrinked the URL using :
http://tinyurl.com/kqocvk , then again, to
After tested, here are the results:
Sucuri.net shows tinyurl as original web address
URL Shorteners that allowing preview
Some URL shorteners provide settings to enable preview for their service when activated. For instance: TinyURL and Trunc.it.
So What Are Your Takes?
Did you ever experience any click-frauds? How do you normally deal with suspicious links that sent in your way? Love to hear your thoughts.