Here are ten link shortening menaces for you to nibble on.
- No doubt you have your favorite website with a cross-site scripting vulnerability. But it can be a real pain to deliver a good attack script, and if you load it from a web site, there's a chance something might get traced back to you. No worries! A link shortener can help you load a bushel of attack code into one small friendly package. When your mark clicks on the link, he's delivered to that well-trusted but slightly buggy e-commerce website. Swipe his session cookies, forge an access token and personal info. He'll never even notice.
- Phishing attacks are starting to look so lame. By now, people know to be suspicious when the 1etters in a hostname become numer1c. With a link shortener you can easily hide the hostname or IP address; when asking for credit card info, it's SO important to be user friendly.
- You're into SQL injection? Link shorteners help you keep that DROP TABLES command from needlessly worrying your involuntary partners with privileges.
- Spam blocking getting you down? URL Shorteners can help you neutralize unsolicited email identification systems which use hostnames to identify possible spam. "Girlz.xxx" is a great site, but "bit.ly" is a name you can show your fiancée's parents!
- Don't forget that once you get past the spam blocker, you still need to avoid the porn filter used by the school system or Panera Bread. Also, your corporate and government customers will appreciate the deniability offered by a shortened link.
- You've sent out the email blasts, but how do you know whether your eager audience receives your processed meat food or clicks on the links? The analytics provided by URL shortening services are a great solution! Shortened links are free, so you can use a new one for every recipient.
- Is your botnet being detected and your links being broken? Most shorteners won't help you because they won't let you change your link after you've created it, but take a look at PURL. If one of your machines gets taken out, you can edit the PURL to keep your link working, and shorten it for good measure.
- Ever wonder why there are so many URL shortening services? Chain a bunch of them together for fun, loopy amusement, and to confuse bit.ly! And add a Rickroll, while you're at it!
- Want to slander Islam, you blasphemer? Or gossip about your boss, you slacker? Avoid those annoying fatwahs and performance improvement plans by using a shortener service that is blocked in Saudi Arabia or in your office.
- Want to hog the credit for links to other people's content? Ow.ly can help you there.
- BONUS! You know how the Evil guys torturing James Bond and Austin Powers are always based in a tiny island country or desert oasis? There's no better way to help those guys than to use the .LY (Libya), .CC (Cocos Islands), .GD (Grenada), .TO (Tonga) and .IM (Isle of Man) top level domains for as many links as possible.
automated spam and malware detection and protection, they don't really explain why a URL shortening service needs spam and malware protection, or why this is a good reason for people to use their service. It's a bit like Domino's Pizza's big advertising campaign that explained how their pizza didn't taste awful anymore. You may have known that Domino's was not the tastiest of pizza's, but perhaps you didn't realize that shortened links might also be greasy and indigestive. Now you do.
In my post on shortDOI, I made a passing comment about Bit.ly's spam countermeasures that seemed to imply that the Digital Object Identifier (DOI) redirection service was somehow lacking in spam prevention. That was a mistake and a result of absent context.
As I've described here, there are lots of ways to abuse a link redirection service. If a service is frequently abused, its links may get blocked, its ISP may start to get complaints and threaten to shut it off, and its reputation will suffer. So link redirection services of all kinds need to have robust and scaleable ways to prevent abuse.
The contrast between Bit.ly and DOI makes clear that the biggest benefit of Bit.ly's spam and malware mechanisms is not that they make bit.ly links safer than DOI links, it's that they allow you to use their service, even when they don't trust you.
It's still pizza, even if the sauce is better.