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WOT Analysis: Are URL Shortening Services Unintentionally Promoting Malicious Websites?

Helsinki, Finland, September 26, 2012

Web of Trust (WOT), a community-powered safe-surfing tool that helps web users find reliable websites, recently completed an analysis of nearly 1.7 billion shortened URL links and found that the URL shortening services are often used to drive traffic to suspicious websites.

WOT’s research found that 8.7 percent of websites reached via the TinyURL service, and 5.0 percent of websites reached via Bit.ly, receive poor ratings for ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘child protection’ – as measured by WOT’s millions of crowd-sourced reputation scores. Further analysis comparing the top level domain names (TLDs) that host these websites shows that the URL shortening services are often exploited to drive traffic to loosely-regulated countries where as much as 90 percent of the websites are suspicious. The top five most exploited domains are:

  • .ac (Ascension Island) – 91% of websites are rated poorly
  • .ms (Montserrat) – 65% of websites are rated poorly
  • .pr (Puerto Rico) – 46% of websites are rated poorly
  • .mu (Mauritius) – 36% of websites are rated poorly
  • .tc (Turks and Caicos Islands) – 35% of websites are rated poorly

“Certainly the URL shortening services don’t intend to point people to malicious websites, but perhaps they can do more to proactively protect their services from being exploited,” said Markus Suomi, CEO of WOT. “These companies could automatically screen for potentially compromised website destinations, or at least inform their users when caution might be warranted before clicking on the link.”

WOT’s peer-authenticated reputation scores protect users around the world from exactly the things that traditional anti-virus software cannot: sites with questionable content, dubious online stores, unreliable vendors, and potential threats to child safely and privacy. The scores are based on WOT’s community of millions of users and are used to help guide users toward reliable websites. Companies that currently license WOT’s reputation data include Facebook, Mail.Ru Group, DuckDuckGo and many other global online properties.

Other Research Findings

Other findings from WOT’s data analysis of websites reached via URL shortening services include:

1) The .com top-level domain (TLD) is the most popular by a wide margin, but as a percentage it hosts the fewest dangerous websites (only 2.5% of .com sites are rated poorly for ‘trustworthiness’ and 3.6% are rated poorly for ‘child safety’)

2) The three most common TLD alternatives to .com are corrupted by a surprisingly large percentage of poorly rates websites:

  • .info – 10.7% of websites are rated poorly
  • .net – 9.6% of websites are rated poorly
  • .biz – 9.5% of websites are rated poorly

WOT’s analysis was based on data collected since the very inception of Bit.ly in 2008 and TinyURL in 2002, through to the end of December 2011.

How to Install WOT

Web users can start using WOT by downloading the free WOT add-on to their browsers (available for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari and Opera).

About WOT Services

Web of Trust (WOT) is a community-powered browser add-on that helps web users find reliable websites. WOT uses an intuitive traffic-light rating system to help web users stay safe when they search, surf and shop online. Website ratings are crowd-sourced from a fast growing worldwide community of WOT users who have rated the reputation of 38 million websites based on their experiences in terms of trustworthiness, vendor reliability, privacy and child safety. Community ratings are augmented with information from selected technical data services. The WOT add-on works with Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari and is a free download from www.mywot.com.

Media Contact:

Rocket Science PR, for WOT
Rich Mullikin, APR
Tel: +1 415 464 8110 x216
Mobile: +1 925 354 7444
Email: rich@rocketscience.com