How to tell if a shortened link is secure in 2018

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 21, 2014
Updated • Feb 25, 2018

If you hang out a lot on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook, you have encountered countless links that were shortened.

What is meant by that is that proxy links tend to get posted on these sites that do nothing but redirect you to the real site when you click on them.

While that may make sense on Twitter with its artificial 140 character limit, it is a dangerous habit that has no real advantage other than reducing the number of characters displayed on the screen.

The danger lies in the fact that you don't know where a link leads you. A link like reveals nothing about its destination and with that comes the danger that you get tricked into loading dangerous sites on the Internet.

Update: Firefox 57+ users may download and install The extension is compatible with Firefox 57 and newer, and expands and analyzes links automatically when you activate them.

How to tell if a shortened link is secure in 2018

Maybe you get redirected to a phishing website, a drive by download page, or a site that tries to attack you or your computer in other ways.

short links

You can prepare your system for that somewhat though. Security software may assist you and protect you from many dangers for example, but there is never a 100% protection against all threats.

The source

You can use the source as an indicator. Who posted the link? Is it a trustworthy friend, a company or an individual that you don't know at all or barely?

While that may help you most of the time, it should not be used exclusively to assess the potential danger of a shortened link.

A friend may send you a link that you don't want to visit for example. This does not necessarily have to be a security issue. Maybe you don't want to be rickrolled again, or hate it when friends send you "2 girls one cup" like videos.

Then there is also the possibility of hacked accounts. If a friend's account has been hacked, malicious links may be pushed by the attacker to all followers or friends.

Revealing the link target

reveal shortened link

The best option that you have is to reveal the target of the shortened link. While it is usually possible to visit the website of the url shortener service to reveal the link target by entering the short version manually on it, it is not practical.

That's where tools come into play that assist you in that. A search for Chrome extensions and Firefox add-ons comes to a surprising result. While there are a handful of extensions available for Chrome that reveal shortened link targets automatically, there is not a single one available for Firefox that works.

The majority of add-ons for Firefox that reveal links date back to 2012 and earlier, and not a single one of them works.

Side note: There is still the possibility that an add-on exists for the browser but I was not able to find it on the official website. If you know of one that works, let me know in the comments.

Chrome users can select LinkPeelr for example which reveals link targets on hover. It supports a wide variety of services including,, or to name a few.

So what can Firefox users use instead?

Firefox users can use a service link LongUrl instead. It is a web service that you can paste shortened links in to reveal their destination.

It is not nearly as comfortable as hovering the mouse over links but it is better than not being able to reveal a link destination at all.

The service maintained a Firefox add-on once but it has not been updated since 2009 and won't work in recent versions of the browser. The userscript too is not working correctly anymore.

An alternative to that is Unshorten which reveals the link target and displays Web of Trust ratings and whether hpHosts has blacklisted the url on the results page.

Now You: How do you handle shortened links?

How to tell if a shortened link is secure in 2018
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How to tell if a shortened link is secure in 2018
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  1. ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Doesn’t Windows 8 know that www. or http:// are passe ?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 4, 2012 at 7:57 pm

      Well it is a bit difficulty to distinguish between domains and files for instance.

    2. Leonidas Burton said on September 4, 2023 at 4:51 am

      I know a service made by google that is similar to Google bookmarks.

  2. VioletMoon said on August 16, 2023 at 5:26 pm

    @Ashwin–Thankful you delighted my comment; who knows how many “gamers” would have disagreed!

  3. Karl said on August 17, 2023 at 10:36 pm


    The comments section under this very article (3 comments) is identical to the comments section found under the following article:

    Not sure what the issue is, but have seen this issue under some other articles recently but did not report it back then.

  4. Anonymous said on August 25, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Omg a badge!!!
    Some tangible reward lmao.

    It sucks that redditors are going to love the fuck out of it too.

  5. Scroogled said on August 25, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    With the cloud, there is no such thing as unlimited storage or privacy. Stop relying on these tech scums. Purchase your own hardware and develop your own solutions.

    1. lollmaoeven said on August 27, 2023 at 6:24 am

      This is a certified reddit cringe moment. Hilarious how the article’s author tries to dress it up like it’s anything more than a png for doing the reddit corporation’s moderation work for free (or for bribes from companies and political groups)

  6. El Duderino said on August 25, 2023 at 11:14 pm

    Almost al unlmited services have a real limit.

    And this comment is written on the dropbox article from August 25, 2023.

  7. John G. said on August 26, 2023 at 1:29 am

    First comment > @ilev said on August 4, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    For the God’s sake, fix the comments soon please! :[

  8. Kalmly said on August 26, 2023 at 4:42 pm

    Yes. Please. Fix the comments.

  9. Kim Schmidt said on September 3, 2023 at 3:42 pm

    With Google Chrome, it’s only been 1,500 for some time now.

    Anyone who wants to force me in such a way into buying something that I can get elsewhere for free will certainly never see a single dime from my side. I don’t even know how stupid their marketing department is to impose these limits on users instead of offering a valuable product to the paying faction. But they don’t. Even if you pay, you get something that is also available for free elsewhere.

    The algorithm has also become less and less savvy in terms of e.g. English/German translations. It used to be that the bot could sort of sense what you were trying to say and put it into different colloquialisms, which was even fun because it was like, “I know what you’re trying to say here, how about…” Now it’s in parts too stupid to translate the simplest sentences correctly, and the suggestions it makes are at times as moronic as those made by Google Translations.

    If this is a deep-learning AI that learns from users’ translations and the phrases they choose most often – which, by the way, is a valuable, moneys worthwhile contribution of every free user to this project: They invest their time and texts, thereby providing the necessary data for the AI to do the thing as nicely as they brag about it in the first place – alas, the more unprofessional users discovered the translator, the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, the greater the aggregate of linguistically illiterate users has become, and the worse the language of this deep-learning bot has become, as it now learns the drivel of every Tom, Dick and Harry out there, which is why I now get their Mickey Mouse language as suggestions: the inane language of people who can barely spell the alphabet, it seems.

    And as a thank you for our time and effort in helping them and their AI learn, they’ve lowered the limit from what was once 5,000 to now 1,500…? A big “fuck off” from here for that! Not a brass farthing from me for this attitude and behaviour, not in a hundred years.

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