QR Codes: The Hidden Dangers and How to Avoid them

QR Codes: The Hidden Dangers and How to Avoid them

Think about the last time you scanned a QR code, it is likely that you quickly scanned it without much apprehension. While scanning these codes may be a convenient way to send and receive information, they can pose a significant threat to mobile device security. From marketers and savvy business leaders to consumers and restaurant goers, we have become overly reliant on the safety and security of QR codes. But with the increasing popularity of these quick response codes, how can you protect yourself from malicious attempts? In this article, we’ll cover the steps you can take to ensure safety with tips from our team of security experts. 

Why are we so trusting of QR Codes? 

The QR (quick response) Code was originally developed in 1994 as a way of tracking and managing automobile parts during the assembly process. During its initial release to the mainstream public in 2010, the QR code only slowly gained popularity. Fast forwarding to September 2020, a survey by Statista found that 47% of respondents noticed an increase in QR code usage since March 2020. Airports, restaurants, and large retailers were among the first to implement them, using the codes to streamline various processes. Meaning that the QR code was predominantly introduced to us through reputable sources during a time of rapid change, where adopting new processes and technologies was necessary. The combination of these three factors heightened our willingness to adopt and trust these codes. In addition, there is a psychological response associated with a QR Code that entices you to take fast action by evoking a sense of curiosity. This is excellent for marketers, but it's excellent for cybercriminals, too. These malicious attackers capitalize on the trust, excitement, and familiarity consumers have with QR codes. 

How Do Cybercriminals Use QR Codes?

Often, attackers embed a malicious URL into the QR code; once the user scans the code, malware is downloaded and activated on their device. 

Phishing pages have also become easier to manipulate as hackers can embed a landing page, emulating a legitimate website and encouraging users to provide sensitive information. This is effective because the corrupted URL link is concealed behind the standard visual of a QR code. A valid URL link and a corrupted URL link look the same, making it difficult to assess the validity of a QR code. Hackers can also replace what was once a legitimate QR code from a trusted source and swap it with a malicious link, which can be done physically and digitally. All of this makes it difficult, but not impossible, to protect yourself from these savvy attacks. 

Protecting Yourself and Your Business from Malicious QR Codes 

Knowing how to identify and prevent a cyber attack through QR codes can be hard to do, but here are the top tips we recommend using before the next time you encounter a QR code: 

  • Only scan codes from trusted sources, and never share your information without inspecting the URL 
  • Remain aware of promotions emulating legitimate sources 
  • Always assess for tampering or modification of physical QR codes 
  • Use third-party apps to vet QR Codes. Kaspersky QR Scanner is a free third-party scanning app for iOS and Android. It is designed to check the security of every QR code you scan with it, providing a warning whenever it encounters potential dangers. It also has a history tab to track and locate the websites associated with previous QR codes. 
  • Ensure your system defenses are effective prior to encountering a malicious attack attempt. One of the most effective ways to identify the effectiveness of your security measures is by engaging in a penetration test. This is a simulated cyberattack that is used to identify any security vulnerabilities within a system. It is through the identification of these vulnerabilities that you may begin to develop appropriate remediation strategies to protect against attacks, including those that exploit QR codes. You can read more about the Penetration Testing process here, or if you’re ready to enhance your security, you may contact us now for more information. 
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