Twitter finally attacks malicious short URLs

Ronny Kerr · August 3, 2009 · Short URL:

Defense against worms and spam goes up unannounced

twitterWhen you’re only given 140 characters to share your message with the world, abbreviations become very, very useful.

The use of shortened URLs that point to pages whose original URLs are of ungodly lengths is probably the most common form of abbreviation on Twitter, where 140 characters is the rule. For example, posting instead of the full saved me about 60 characters on my last tweet, which I used to describe my post and to add words that might help users find the tweet in searches.

The only problem with these URLs is that, while the original poster may know where the link, nobody else has any idea. Although my example of a shortened URL above clearly points to a page on, the most popular URL shorteners, like, are completely ambiguous in the links they provide. One link,, points to Facebook and another,, points to Twitter.

But the shortened URLs indicate no difference in their addresses about their destinations. For all we know, any random user’s Twitter post may claim to link to an article about tech breaking news, even if the link actually posts to a site with malware or some malicious scripts running in the background.

Because of this vulnerability, in tandem with the network’s exploding popularity, the site has increasingly become a target for worms and spam attacks.

Well, Twitter is finally doing something about it, according to multiple users and news sources.

Now, when a user attempts to post a malicious shortened link, Twitter warns you, “Oops! Your tweet contained a URL to a known malware site!” On third-party clients, posts with bad links are outright blocked without any explanation.

All of us on Twitter certainly welcome this upgrade, despite the lateness in its implementation. Users can be more confident now searching the site and clicking random links to their hearts’ content.

Twitter has not yet officially announced this update.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.