by Larry Magid
September 21, 2010
Anyone who has used Twitter has seen those shortened URLs from TinyURL.com, Bitly, and other such services. The advantage of those shortened URLs is that they take up less space, which can be very important on Twitter, where messages are limited to no more than 140 characters, but the disadvantage is that you don’t know where you’re going until you’re already there.
Unlike regular URLs, which show the actual domain to which you’re navigating, these are meaningless codes that give you no clue of the actual destination. As a result, there is the possibility that the links can take you places you might not want to visit, including sites that can install malicious software on your machine.
To help ease the minds of those who may be clicking on shortened URLs, computer security firm McAfee is offering its own URL-shortening service called McAf.ee.
The service will shorten URLs right away–without scanning them to make sure that the linked-to site is secure–but when a user clicks on a McAf.ee link, the security firm will examine the destination to determine if it’s likely safe. The company will use some of the same databases it uses for its SiteAdvisor service and other security products to help ensure that the destination isn’t malicious or spammy.
In an interview (scroll down for podcast), McAfee Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Simon Hunt said, “It seemed to us pretty obvious that we could offer this kind of service with a level of confidence beyond just, ‘click here and hope.'” McAf.ee, he hopes, will be adopted by those who want to reassure users that their shortened links are safe to click on.
Hunt, who on his blog refers to the URL-shortening service as “a pet project of mine,” said that a few months ago, there was a whole plague of URLs appearing on Twitter and Facebook that enticed people to jump to sites that deployed malware, viruses, and bots.”
Hunt did acknowledge that some other services, including Bitly, offer some degree of security screening, but he emphasized McAfee’s core competence in the area of helping users stay away from malicious sites, content, and applications.