QR Code Risks That You Must Know Now

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QR Code Risks That You Must Know Now

QR Codes were first used by a Japanese car manufacturer to streamline their production processes. Today one can find them in most places. The pandemic has in part contributed to the rising popularity and use of the QR Code. A September 2020 survey conducted in the US, UK, Germany, Netherlands, France, and Spain, of more than 4400 consumers, confirmed that there has been a multi-fold increase in QR scans.

The scanning of a QR Code is normally used to open a URL. But nowadays, the use of the QR Code, has diversified. One’s dependence on them has also grown. According to the above mentioned survey, in recent times, over a third of the population surveyed, have scanned QR Codes at restaurants and bars, at electronic stores or supermarkets, and also on product packaging. There has also been a noticeable increase in the scanning of the code at bowling alleys, movie theaters, at financial institutes, at doctor’s chambers, at workplaces, gyms, as well as while traveling.

Scanning a QR Code poses the same kind of risks as opening an unknown website. While with a website one has the option of not clicking on the link, with the QR Code, scanning It, instantly opens the URL embedded in it.

Malicious QR Code Risks

When an unsuspecting user scans a QR Code that has been tampered by hackers, the code can take the user to a fake website that can capture personal data or install malicious software on a mobile phone that initiates actions like:

  • Can add a contact listing:      
  • Make a phone call
  • Draft an email
  • Send an sms to predetermined recipients
  • Can reveal the device’s geolocation
  • Can create a calendar invite
  • Can add a preferred WiFi network
  • Can follow social media accounts
  • Can facilitate payment within seconds.

All of the above can compromise the user’s device, making all the private information stored in it like credit card details, bank details, the physical location of the user, available to cyber criminals.

The Risks Of Scanning QR Codes:

Scanning QR Codes has many security risks, such as

  • Lack of familiarity: According to the survey, while 67% of phone users are aware of these codes, 71% of them could not distinguish between a legitimate and a malicious QR Code.
  • Used for phishing: QR images cannot be hacked but can be replaced thus can be used for phishing. A QR Code can have a malicious URL embedded in it that can take the user scanning it to a site malware. That malware can compromise the user’s device’s software and share sensitive information with cyber criminals like his contact number, credit card details, Google and Facebook passwords.
  • Disguised Malware downloads: Savvy hackers can use QR Codes to direct the user to disguised malware downloads.
  • Tracking location: Hackers can also track the location of the user if they have criminal intent in mind.
  • Disabling the user’s handset: Once infected the user’s device can also be disabled. The survey revealed that more than 50% of the owners were unaware of whether their devices had any mobile security.
  • Clickjacking: QR Codes are often used in clickjacking or social engineering attacks. Since these codes are used to pay for a variety of goods and services, the user has to scan the QR Code with their banking app. The attacker can replace the code with a malicious one that can allow them to automatically send a payment and access the user’s financial data.
  • Revealing bank details: A QR Code can also be used to persuade the user to make payment instead of using cash, thereby revealing the user’s bank details.
  • Coronavirus tracking: QR Codes are often used for tracking those infected with the coronavirus. Malicious or false codes could impair the efficacy of the contact-tracing mechanism.

Precautions To Take When Scanning A QR Code

Ensuring that a QR Code is safe is the user’s responsibility. So there are a few precautions he should take before scanning a code.

  • Carefully peruse the code stickers: A cybercriminal may paste a fake code over the original one to access the user’s private and secure information. So one should carefully check the code for tampering, before scanning it.
  • Pay attention: There is a time lag between the scanning and opening of the embedded URL. So one must pay close attention while scanning a QR Code. If anything seems amiss, the user must immediately abort the action.
  • Educate others: If one lends one’s smartphone to others, particularly kids, one must remember to educate them about the dangers of QR Codes.
  • Be wary: Most QR Codes indicate the destination of its scan. If there is no such indication the user should be careful, particularly if using an Android operating system. Android, being an open platform is more susceptible to attacks by cybercriminals.
  • Update phone regularly: Although updating the phone regularly will not entirely protect the user against clickjacking or social engineering attacks, it can help protect his phone from being exploited through such attacks.
Scanning QR codes (QR code risks)
Take precautions when scanning a QR code from an unknown or suspicious source.

The Common Complaints Of QR Codes

QR Codes have come a long way since it was first introduced to the public. Other than the QR Code risks as mentioned above, the common complaints of QR Codes used to be that the codes can be scanned only with smartphones and mobile data; one needs to download a separate QR Code reader; the users are unfamiliar with it and therefore are reluctant to scan it. Another oft repeated complaint is that QR Codes add to the clutter and are boring. Users find scanning QR Code troublesome, probably because there seems to be no strong reason or motivation to do so.

With the drop in prices of smartphones and their access to cheaper and faster mobile internet data, the hesitation to scan QR Codes has lessened. Bulk of these above complaints have been nullified with the introduction of smartphones that come with built-in QR Code scanners.

Another contributing factor is that with the evolution of technology, businesses have found that these codes are easy to generate and deploy. Plus, it’s also easy for businesses to build mobile friendly websites that act as destinations for the QR codes. 

People have become more mobile savvy and so their perception of QR Codes have changed. Users have discovered the conveniences QR Codes bring, like they can be applied to any industry from healthcare to hospitality and retail and can link consumers to websites, store discounts, promotional campaigns, patient medical reports, mobile payments, etc. In today’s technology-oriented world, QR Code is the best way to pack in a large amount of data in a small space.

The Relevance Of QR Codes Despite The Risks

Over the years, QR Codes have overcome a lot of complaints that potentially could have prevented its widespread adoption. Similarly, the risks that QR Codes pose can be address with increase cybersecurity awareness in businesses and the general public. Everything in this world have some amount of risk, and QR Codes are no exception.

Today QR Codes are a bridge between offline and online platforms. They can be added to offline media like business cards, brochures, posters, flyers, and billboards. They encourage the user to respond to the company’s call-to-action offers or visit their website. While with billboards or print media it is impossible to measure how much sales have been generated by them, the QR Codes give clear indications of the same.

The QR codes are essential for contactless transactions that have become mandatory due to the proliferation of the Covid-19 virus.  Governments across the world have made it compulsory for the collection of contact details from individuals and storage of that information for at least month. This is to help track all those who have come in contact with Covid-19. QR Codes gained a new lease of life in 2020 due to the pandemic which compelled the world to look for ways to do business without any contact. These codes are now used for no-contact payments, delivery, and pickups.

E-commerce is another area where QR Codes come into use. They can trigger action to add items to one’s shopping cart. They can also be linked to a landing page offering discounts or gifts. QR Codes instantly convey to prospective buyers, extra details about the company’s services, products, and special offers. QR Codes also work as effective lead magnets by getting consumers to sign up for loyalty programs.

QR Codes are being used these days to strengthen and deepen the bonds between customers and companies by getting important client feedback and taking action on them. Companies like L’Oreal, Taco Bell, Porche, and Instagram can vouch for the impressive benefits they have seen since they started using QR Codes.

So, the advantages of using QR Codes, outweigh its disadvantages.

To Conclude

Like everything else in the world, the QR Code also has its pros and cons. A careful user should not be afraid of scanning a QR code. It is almost as susceptible to attack as one’s laptop, desktop, or smartphone is. But just like one cannot stop using those gadgets, in a technologically advanced world one cannot ignore the QR Code.

Scanning QR Codes will soon become second nature to consumers. So fear not. Just be careful. Watch out for any tampering of the QR Code before scanning it. Keep your phone updated so that your phone is protected from cyber-attacks. Technology is being upgraded every day. Now that QR Codes are becoming more and more popular, surely technology will soon find newer ways to protect users from all its drawbacks.

Where to generate QR code? 

You can generate a multitude of QR code types with our free QR Code generator

You don’t have to worry about being a designer since the app is user-friendly. You just pick a design, enter the required field(s), and then voila, you can download your QR code. 


Credits for images use in this article ‘QR Code Risks That You Must Know Now’.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

Photo by Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

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