Are QR Codes Safe to Use?

August 9, 2021

Are QR Codes Safe to Use?


The age of COVID-19 has brought upon many changes to our daily routines - masks, working from home and hand sanitizer have all become staples in our lives one way or another. Not only that but many other organizations and businesses have had to adapt to the new world environment. In fact, to reduce points of contact, many businesses (including restaurants and grocery stores) have implemented QR codes for customers to scan menus or grocery items. 


QR codes have become more commonplace in recent years, especially with the rise of mobile phones and social media. Many social networks offer QR codes to link users to others’ profiles with just a simple scan. It is no question that QR codes have become incredibly popular and are found almost everywhere nowadays. Given their popularity, it is important for us to consider the question: are QR codes safe to use? 


What is a QR Code?


An example of a QR Code


As seen above, a QR code is a two-dimensional barcode that can be scanned with a mobile phone camera. The code contains information in a machine-readable format that allows a specific task to be performed. Typically QR codes are used to redirect users’ to an external link or profile. 


Why Are QR Codes Unsafe?


Your automatic assumption may be that the QR code itself can be modified to be malicious. In actuality, the risk with QR codes stems from the fact that the content that the user is scanning and displaying can be malicious and become an attack. It is possible for QR codes to contain a number of different risks and malicious redirects. Horrifyingly many people don’t know that QR codes can actually hijack phones to make phone calls or send text messages. Even worse, harmful QR codes can lead to your sensitive information (i.e. phone number, email address, location, etc) to be leaked to malevolent cybercriminals. 


Hidden Security Issues


One of the most dangerous problems with QR codes is that it can be hard to determine if they are malicious or not. Unlike a URL, where you are able to look at where you are being redirected, often users are unable to know for sure what a QR code will do. Opening a malicious QR code can have the same risks and harms as opening a malicious website. 


Instead of Scanning QR Codes…


Instead of scanning QR codes, a better practice would be to navigate to the intended website or profile on your own. For example, if you are eating at a restaurant that asks you to scan a QR code for the menu, you could instead navigate to the menu from your own search engine. This way, you are ensuring that you are indeed navigating to your intended webpage and not being misdirected elsewhere.


Interested in Learning More?


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