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SafeLinks: A Guide to Decoding and Testing URLs Safely

Ensuring the safety and integrity of the links we click on has never been more crucial. Microsoft’s Advance Threat Prevention system, integrated into Outlook and the broader Microsoft 365 suite, incorporates a feature known as SafeLinks.

This service is designed to protect users by verifying that links embedded in emails are neither blocked by their organization nor flagged as malicious. However, this added layer of security comes with its complexities, particularly when understanding where a link is directing you. Let’s dive into the world of SafeLinks, decode the mystery behind those rewritten URLs, and explore how you can test links in a secure environment.

Understanding SafeLinks

SafeLinks is part of Microsoft’s proactive approach to safeguard users from cyber threats. Whenever you receive an email with a link, SafeLinks checks the link’s credibility. It does this by rewriting the original URL into a format that begins with https://nam10.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=… This process allows SafeLinks to intercept your click and verify the link before reaching your destination. While this mechanism is pivotal in preventing phishing and other cyber-attacks, it also obscures the original URL, making it difficult for users to discern where the link is pointing.

The Issue at Hand

The primary challenge with SafeLinks is its URL rewriting mechanism, which complicates understanding the destination of a link. This can be particularly troublesome when you need to copy and paste the link into another document or web content, as the rewritten URL is cumbersome and masks the actual destination.

A Simple Solution To Decoding Safelinks

Thankfully, a straightforward solution to this problem is using a URL decoding utility. One such utility is available at www.o365atp.com, designed to reveal the original URL hidden within a SafeLinks rewritten link. Here’s how you can use this tool:

  1. In your email message, right-click on the SafeLink and select “Copy Hyperlink” or “Copy Link Address.”
  2. Navigate to Safelinks Decoder on your web browser.
  3. Paste the copied link into the top box on the website.
  4. The website will then display the original URL in the “Decoded URL” box, unveiling the link’s actual destination.

Going the Extra Mile: Testing Links in an Isolated Environment

For those who want to take an extra step towards ensuring online safety, testing the link in an isolated environment before visiting it can be wise. Services like Browserling (www.browserling.com) offer a virtual browser that allows you to visit web links in an environment completely isolated from your computer. This service streams a video feed of the browser session, enabling you to see what’s happening on the site without exposing your device to potential threats. Once done, the virtual environment is deleted and recreated for the next user, ensuring that each session is completely isolated.

Final Thoughts on decoding Safelinks

In an era where cyber security is paramount, tools like SafeLinks play a crucial role in protecting users. However, understanding and managing these tools is equally important. By using URL decoding services and testing links in isolated environments, users can navigate the web more safely and confidently, knowing exactly where their clicks will take them

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