The Convenience and Risks of QR Codes

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QR Codes Go Mainstream

Quick Response (QR) codes have been around for over 20 years, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that they truly broke into the mainstream. As businesses needed safe, contactless solutions, QR codes provided an easy way for customers to access menus, place orders, log into Wi-Fi and more – all without touching shared surfaces. 

Their growing adoption has undoubtedly brought many convenient new features to our daily lives. But as with any new technology, QR codes also introduce some cybersecurity risks people should know. In this article, we’ll explore common QR code threats and tips for staying safe.

How Hackers Can ‘Qish’ QR Codes

By their nature, QR codes aren’t human-readable – they’re just patterns that direct your device to a website or app. This is what also makes them vulnerable to exploitation. Hackers have figured out simple ways to replace legitimate QR codes with fraudulent ones.

You may have noticed how many restaurants now offer digital menus through codes posted on tables. But what if an attacker replaced that code to route you to a clone website instead?

You may not realize you’ve been redirected from the actual restaurant site without closer inspection. And if you enter payment details on the fake page, hackers now have your sensitive financial information.

The same risk applies to QR codes in public spaces promising things like free Wi-Fi or rewards. An imposter code could install malware on your device or phish your login credentials once you connect.

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The security industry calls this type of QR code fraud “Qishing” – the QR equivalent of phishing scams.

How to use QR Codes Safely

To mitigate risks, follow these basic precautions when scanning any QR codes:

  • Inspect codes for signs they may have been tampered with, like extra stickers or font/format mismatches from the business’s usual branding.
  • Verify the destination URL and ensure it matches what you expect from the legitimate organization.
  • Think twice before entering passwords or payments via public codes.
  • When in doubt, type the business URL directly or visit their official website first before interacting with any embedded QR links.

With a bit of mindfulness about QR code sources and where they lead, customers can continue enjoying stress-free conveniences while minimizing the chances of running into fraudulent scams and clones.

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