What is link masking?
Shortening the URL to a specific website isn’t a new concept, but this method – often referred to as “link masking” – has its pros and cons in the computer security world.
Link masking involves taking a lengthy website address and making it shorter.
One of the most common services used to shorten a URL is TinyURL, which launched more than 15 years ago.
Website administrators and security experts agree there are safe, legitimate uses for link masking.
For instance, some website addresses can get wieldy and be filled with so many words and special characters, they’re hard to get right.
Condensed URLs take away that problem.
It’s also a common remedy for sharing links on social media platforms like Twitter, where strict limits to the number of characters might limit users who want to share links.
Can link masking be dangerous, though?
Sure, if meant to be.
Remember the basic concept behind link masking is to conceal or cover up the real identity of the website address by showing a different one.
Some websites began to use masking to hide the fact that they were linking their users to “affiliate” sites, which were paying the initial source based on the number of click-throughs it received.
Perhaps that’s not dangerous, or even unethical, but the Federal Trade Commission now recommends all “affiliate” links be disclosed to users.
But there are, indeed, criminals who can take advantage of link masking.
According to Trend Micro, a popular anti-virus and Internet security company, link masking could help fraudulent, dangerous sites be concealed through a masked link.
Trend Micro has found in the past that link masking led to spam being sent to instant-messaging services like Yahoo!
It has also been used to infect computers with dangerous worms and malware-infected attachments.
Other times, it could lead to the personal information of a victim being shared with others – including a home address or telephone number.
How do I stay safe while browsing online?
Use caution when you receive an attachment or link through email, text, or when visiting another website.
If you aren’t sure of the link’s authenticity, don’t click on it.
Use up-to-date anti-virus software and firewalls to keep your computer and network as safe as possible.