URL Shorteners - Not Just for Tweetaholics!

When you post to Twitter you only have 140 characters per Tweet… so EVERY character counts. What chews up your Tweet allotment the fastest? URLs or Uniform Resource Locators which is a synonym for “web addresses”.

So, what’s a Tweetaholic to do? Cue the fanfare… doo-doo-doo-dooooo! URL shorteners to the rescue! These services take your holy-crap-that’s-never-going-to-fit web addresses and squish them down to approximately 18-23 characters… a lifesaver of precious Tweet space! Now this isn’t just good for Twitter… if you look around you’ll find shortened URLs all over the place. They stand out because they start with the name of the shortening service followed by what looks like goobledegook.

For example, both of these will take you to my blog about avoiding bogus emails (a.k.a. phishing scams):

the actual URL comes in at a lengthy 61 characters: http://www.digitalhero.ca/hero-blog/avoid-phishing-scams.html or… shortened to a Twitter-friendly 19 characters: http://goo.gl/RsbQA

How do URL shorteners work? Each service takes the holy-crap-that’s-never-going-to-fit URL you throw at them, then create an entry in their database of the actual URL while generating a unique, short version of it. When someone clicks that shortened URL, it goes to the URL shortener’s website, the shortened URL is looked up, its actual holy-crap-that’s-never-going-to-fit version is located and sent to your browser along with a redirect command routing you to that web page.

Here are some of the top shortener services listed in no particular order, but oddly enough… shortest to longest URL:

Each of these allows you to use their service as a "guest", but if you opt to create an account, you are able to see how many times your shortened URL has been followed.

One final note: beware of “Twishing Attacks”… yes, if you read my blog about bogus emails (phishing scams), then you’ll recognize the term “Twishing”… from Twitter and phishing. Although not as prevalent in its original form: back in 2009 Twishing attacks tried to lure Twitter users to bogus Twitter look-alike websites with the intent of stealing their username and password.

Many social media lovers use the same/similar username and password for their various accounts so once they were tricked into entering them on the bogus site, the attacker could use them to get control of any social media accounts they were used with.

Combat Twishing attacks by:

  • keeping your anti-virus/anti-malware software up todate
  • reading tweets, emails and any communication carefully BEFORE clicking on links they contain
  • using the techniques from my blog about bogus emails (phishing scams) to help spot fake web links, if they haven't been shortened... what works in attackers favour is that you can’t tell whether shortened URLs are legitimate by looking at them and comparing them against the link displayed in the tool tip when you hover over them… so make sure you trust the source of the message that contains them

Until next time!

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