Has Twitter decreased our Internet Safety?

There is no doubt that Twitter has taken the world by storm. The micro-blogging phenomenon has led us to communicate more to whoever is listening about anything and everything. Most major TV events will have twitter abuzz, there are even some TV shows that will hit the twitter top trends when shown in the US.

However, with the increased use of Twitter, has this lead to a lapse in Internet Security practices?

My main concern is the use of shortlinks, or URL Shortening Services. These have sprung up over the last year or so, and now there is a large number of these services out there – and often you can run one from your own website with very little technical knowhow. Even WordPress has one now, so that this page address which is

https://benclapton.id.au/2010/01/19/has-twitter-decreased-our-internet-safety/

becomes:

http://wp.me/pve12-55

Much shorter, and easier to put into a twitter message of 140 characters.

However, has this service made us lapse about our own personal internet security practices?

Prevention is the best form of Protection

Most people these days are aware of the need to protect themselves from nasty stuff on the internet by using Virus Scanners and Firewalls. While the best virus scanners will hopefully pick up a virus before it enters your computer, and hopefully most scanners will pick up the virus once it’s in your computer, and a firewall should prevent it accessing the internet to spread further, the best way to prevent viruses and trojans doing any damage to your computer is to build safe browsing techniques.

The first, and most important, skill is to know where viruses are likely to come from. E-mails with attachments that you’re not expecting, e-mails from people you don’t know – these should always be treated with suspicion. But websites are also potential virus traps. You should only visit websites that you trust, and Porn sites cannot be trusted. Also never click on pop-up ads, as these are often links to viruses.

One of the techniques I often use is to look at the address of the link that I’m heading to. Hovering your mouse over this link, you will see somewhere on your browser what address it is linked to. In this case, it’s a link to my site, which I hope you can trust. However, if I was to see that it was a link to http://somepornsite.com when I was expecting a link to a news article, then I’d be avoiding clicking on that link and probably avoiding going to the site I was on again.

What does all this have to do with Twitter Shortlinks? Well, as I’ve already said, twitter needs these shortlinks to fit within their 140 character limit.  However, when I view http://ow.ly/4hw9b I have absolutely no idea about the content of the page that it links to, and can’t see what the address is to gauge whether I trust it or not.

With the growth in popularity in Twitter, and the increased use of URL Shorteners, the average internet user will stop checking the address of pages to gauge the trustworthiness of that site.

So What can we do?

I’m always more welcoming to click on links shortened by TinyURL, as they have an option that you can set using the cookies on your own computer to always have TinyURL shortlinks redirect to a preview page which will say what address it will redirect to. Bit.ly has an extension for Firefox and Chrome that will display the page linked to and other selected data. However, While it is the responsibility of the internet user to do what they can protect their own safety, I feel that it should be the responsibility of those that run these URL shorteners to have an opt out of the preview page to ensure the security of their users.

But for now, here’s my 5 tips for users to Practice Safe Browsing.

5 Safe Browsing Practices

  1. Ensure that your Virus Scanner and Firewall are always up to date and active.
  2. Check to make sure your Virus Scanner has an active scanning function that will protect you from the majority of viruses trying to enter your computer.
  3. Have a spyware scanner such as Spybot S&D installed and run it regularly.
  4. Get into the habit of checking the address of links and judging their trustworthiness before clicking on them.
  5. When Clicking on shortlinks, visit the shortlink host site (EG: http://ow.ly/dhf4k host site is http://ow.ly) to see if there is a preview function that you can use, or use something like the bit.ly preview extension for Firefox or chrome.

What do you think? Has twitter decreased our Internet Safety? What are some safe browsing tips that you use?

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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