Attention Prourls Users: Your Links Have Been Compromised

Public Service Announcement
It has recently come to our attention that a bad actor acquired the prourls.co domain in mid-April, 2019, and now all prourls.co links are being directed to a malicious page. This could be endangering you and your community. If you’ve ever included prourls.co links on your website, or in tweets, Facebook posts or YouTube video descriptions, you could be causing your channel irreparable harm.

If “Prourls” sounds vaguely familiar, you may remember that prourls.co is the primary domain for short links offered by a competing Amazon affiliate link shortening and localization service, Prourls

Azon.ly is the other domain used by the ProURLS service. Currently, it just resolves to a landing page, not redirecting to Amazon as did in the past. However, it too is ripe for being purchased by bad actors and could also be set up to redirect to malicious destinations before long.

The Prourls.com site is still the same as it has been in the past, promoting the service, allowing accounts to be created, and the dashboard still creates links to a now “malicious” domain – prourls.co. We recommend protecting yourself and stopping the use of this service and these links as soon as possible!

Note this in no way affects geni.us links or our clients who exclusively use the Geniuslink service. Prourls is an entirely separate service.

What you should do

If you were previously a client of Prourls, regardless of if you are using prourls.co or azon.ly short links, we recommend the following actions:

1/ You should immediately remove the links and delete the posts/tweets that contain the link. Your priority is to ensure that you are protecting your community and not helping this bad actor profit from clicks on your links.

While this may seem like an intense first move, remedying the situation appears to now be entirely out of the hands of the team at Prourls, even if they were responsive (more on that below).

While your community’s health should be your priority, having these links associated with your website or social media channels also puts you directly in the crosshairs of the social media platforms where you may be sharing your links, or even Google if these links live on your website.

2/ Share what happened to your community to let them know. We always encourage complete transparency, so share what happened, what you did about it, and encourage your audience to run a malware sweep on their computers if they are concerned (but be careful recommending a malware detection service via an affiliate link as the optics on that are not good!).

3/ Choose a link shortening service that is in it for the long run. You’ve now been missing out on Amazon affiliate commissions from these links for at least a month, and you need to get that fixed for the long term sustainability of your business.

We’re obviously biased, but we’d encourage you to check out Geniuslink as an alternative to Prourls going forward.

If you’re on the fence, consider the following: Amazon’s OneLink service is purely Javascript based, so is not an option if you regularly post your affiliate links to social media (besides the fact that you’ll see better results from using Geniuslink). Further, raw Amzn.to links (managed by Bit.ly), won’t support a global audience with auto-affiliation or link localization.

4/ Share this with your peers that may also be using prourls.co. The sooner word spreads about the malicious intent of the new owners of prourls.co, the better the internet will be. Help out your peers in the space and share with them what you learned (or this post) so they can help keep their community safe, their channels in good standing, and start recovering their affiliate revenue stream.

How bad are prourls.co links?

From our investigations, we found that on first-click any prourls.co URL would resolve, (often through many redirects) to a page that was browser and operating system specific asking for either a password or for you to install software. With our limited access to malware/spyware detection and sandboxing tools, we can’t provide a full breakdown of the bad actors, but the pages we landed on were often blatant phishing attempts and definitely not products on an Amazon website as they should be (and were promised to the clients of the Prourls service).

Viewed from Chrome, Edge and Chrome on Mac:

Further, subsequent clicks on any prourls.co link from the same IP address will send you to a relatively standard and innocuous landing page.

How big is this?

A quick way to quantify the breadth of this issue is to search Google for simply “//prourls.co” to see how many pages include one of the malicious links. This comes back at about 26K results across the greater web.

Breaking that down further and adding “site:XXX” where XXX is the social media platform we are currently seeing:

YouTube: 1,500 results
Pinterest: 369 results
Facebook: 245 results
Twitter: 154 results
Reddit: 22 results

Finding those links

If you are a former Prourls client and curious where you might have posted these links you can use a Google query similar to these:

site:youtube.com “//prourls.co/” “Tyler1”
Note: “Tyler1” is the name of the creator who posted the video; this would be your channel name.

site:twitter.com/smartbuyz “//prourls.co/”
Note: “smartbuyz” is a specific Twitter handle, swap this out with yours so that you are searching all of your posts specifically for instances of “prourls.co”.

Updating those links (on YouTube)

For links on YouTube a tool like TubeBuddy can be super helpful in finding and eliminating these links. A friend of ours, Justin Germino from Dragon Blogger Technology, shared these instructions with us that will replace all of your prourls.co links with a single geni.us link that points to the main page of Amazon. This eliminates the immediate issue of the compromised links and allows you the opportunity to update the links on your schedule :

0/ Get yourself set up with the TubeBuddy Star Program.

1/ In your YouTube Videos List click on the “Bulk Meta Updates – Title and Descriptions” then change the action to “Find and Replace Text.”image001.png

2/ Jump into your Geniuslink dashboard and create a geni.us link that simply points to http://www.amazon.com.  Remember this is just a placeholder geni.us link, you’ll want to update this with a geni.us link to the appropriate product when time allows.  Your goal, for now, is to clear out the compromised prourl.co links. 

3/ Enter the “http://prourls.co” as the find text (you’ll ignore the rest of the characters in the URL).  

4/ For the “Replace text: drop in your Geni.us link and then make sure you put a “?” at the end. This interrupts the characters that are left over from the Prourls.co link.  Use the screenshot below to ensure everything else is set up correctly.  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image002.png

5/ Click “Continue” to make the mass update.  

Remember to do the same for other default broken short links including Prourls’ http://azon.ly if you used those links as well.

Note: This process works because a geni.us link will ignore the characters added after a question mark so if you had the link “http://prourls.co/abcd123” running the above process with a geni.us link that was “https://geni.us/prourlscleanup” would result with links in your YouTube descriptions as “https://geni.us/prourlscleanup?abcd123.”  You’ll notice that both of those geni.us links work the same. 

6/ When time allows, find all of your generic geni.us links that point to the main Amazon webpage and update those with a geni.us link to a specific product. 

Posting bad links

While each of the social media channels has different rules in their terms of service, community guidelines, or operating agreements, they’re not typically very friendly towards the posting of malicious links whether intentional or not.

Further, each of these platforms has its own levels of repercussions for violating their rules. Worse, it’s often the case that there isn’t much that you can do to appeal a decision once one has been handed down. This means that even though it wasn’t intentional, you could be jeopardizing your social media channels by having left this now-malicious prourl.co links in your content.

Google is also well-known for having a robust detection process to find and classify malicious domains, links, and sites. Ensuring you don’t get hit with a Google penalty or having your site added to a Google blacklist can be essential in the long term health of your affiliate marketing endeavors.

Again, we strongly encourage you to remove any prourls.co links as soon as possible to avoid any potential backlash from the social media channels or Google.

Why do we care about the fate of Prourls?

In short, raising the alarm is the right thing to do. It’s essential to protect shopper’s from predatory and malicious behavior online and helps maintain the positive perception and trust of bloggers, creators, and review sites. Of course, while we believe this to be 100% true, you may feel that this sounds like an all too altruistic response from a competitor.

And that’s understandable – the fate of Prourls directly impacts us at Geniuslink too, but probably not how you imagined.

Yes, we may pick up a few former clients of Prourls by helping them learn of the situation, but we aren’t doing this for the marketing benefits. Ultimately, we don’t want the failure and poor execution in spinning down Prourls as a reason that Amazon clamps down on tools such as ourselves and our friends, AAWP, EasyAzon, Amalinks Pro, etc., that also provide services to the Amazon affiliate ecosystem.

As we can all see quite clearly, individual teams innovate way faster than Amazon’s affiliate team. However, the health of our businesses requires that Amazon maintains it’s relatively open policy for allowing external tools to support their affiliate ecosystem. By working together to quickly stamp out these issues, we help ensure that ourselves and other tools that operate inside the Amazon ecosystem can continue to support affiliates and bring to market new tools.

Conclusion

Thank you for your interest and getting to this point. We hope that if you have used Prourls in the past that you’ve followed the steps we outlined early on to remedy the situation. However, if you are reading this, we have two more humble requests:

1/ If you know Neville, the founder of ProURLS, then please connect us. Our emails have gone unanswered, and we’d love to take our unique and fortunate position to help minimize the impact of a bad actor’s purchase of the prourls.co domain.

2/ Further, if you run a short link management service and it’s not working out, please contact us. We’d be happy to work with you to find a good home for your clients and their links and ensure your exit is suitable for everyone.

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