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Directive has been serving the Oneonta area since 1993, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Think Before You Scan That QR Code; It Could Be Dangerous

Think Before You Scan That QR Code; It Could Be Dangerous

Businesses have embraced QR codes as a convenient means of sharing information with clients and customers. Unfortunately, this convenience is also enjoyed by cybercriminals who have decided to use QR codes for their own ends. QR code-based scams against businesses are on the rise, which is precisely why it is so important for organizations of all sizes to appreciate the risks that QR codes can present and know what they need to do to protect themselves.

Let’s explore how QR codes can be used by cybercriminals to the detriment of businesses, and what you can do to prevent this outcome.

QR Codes Can Easily Be Used for Scams and Malware

What are QR Codes?

QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that enable someone to access information quickly and conveniently through a quick smartphone scan. Many businesses will use them to directly market their products and services by directing customers to specific web content, whether that’s your website, a social media page, or product details. They can also share small bits of information, like contact records. QR codes are essentially just short snippets of text or website URLs in a form that your smartphone camera can read.

While they have been around for years, QR codes saw a resurgence in popularity during the COVID pandemic, providing a no-contact alternative to physical menus that wouldn’t need to be sanitized after each use.

How are QR Codes Useful to Cybercriminals?

In short, it’s all due to their simplicity. All a QR code is, is a line of text (up to a maximum of just under 4300 alphanumeric characters), meaning that one could easily use one to share a link or even a short programming command.

Naturally, this offers a lot of utility to the enterprising cybercriminal, directing users to malicious or spoofed websites or tricking them into downloading a nasty bit of malware onto their device. This can be accomplished in two ways. A cybercriminal can either hack an existing QR code and replace its destination with their own malicious one, or simply produce a fake QR code and literally stick it over one that’s already on a sign or poster or menu. With how common these QR codes are nowadays, scanning them is just too convenient.

What Do QR Code Scams Look Like?

Unfortunately, they tend to look like any other QR code. Like we said, one common approach a cybercriminal will take is to simply put their own code over one that’s already on some form of marketing collateral, waiting for a customer to scan it. Once it is scanned, the victim is directed to a spoofed website, where personal details can be stolen or malware can be uploaded to the device accessing it. More insidiously, we also covered how hacking an existing code can corrupt it to the cybercriminal’s intentions.

What Damages Might a Business Face?

There are numerous ways that a QR code can present your business with some risks, even if they aren’t part of your operations. One of the most important lessons to take away is that you’re only as secure as your most vulnerable end user allows you to be.

Unawareness of the Risks

Your employees aren’t going to be on their guard—against QR code-based attacks or otherwise—if they don’t know there’s a reason to be. Scanning malicious codes is a serious risk that requires some intercession to mitigate.

Missing Security Measures

It also isn’t rare for businesses to utilize QR codes without implementing the proper precautions for security’s sake. When was the last time you checked your QR codes to confirm they still go where you want them to go? Not only will this help you to prevent malicious efforts, it will allow you to more effectively maintain your website.

Business System Integration

QR codes are very much able to assist businesses with certain processes, such as inventory management, payment processing, and other tasks that can be automated somewhat simply. Again, these systems need the proper security in place to avoid vulnerabilities being exploited. 

How to Use QR Codes with Security in Mind

Check That the Link Goes Where It’s Supposed To

Before you navigate to any QR code’s destination, you should always confirm where it is directing you to. Try utilizing a QR scanner that will display the linked website’s URL before redirecting you to it so you can confirm you won’t be sent somewhere unexpected.

It will help to incorporate some basic phishing prevention practices.

If a waitress hands you a menu with a QR code, you are probably in the clear. If you are scanning a QR code that could be manipulated by human hands, check to look for signs of tampering—if the QR code is a sticker on a poster, for instance, it is possible it could have been added there by someone else, and could be a trick.

Monitor Your QR Codes for Changes

Just like any other piece of your technology implementation, you need to keep a close eye on your QR codes. We’ve already touched on how your codes could potentially be altered, you need to regularly check that they haven’t been.

Train Your Team

You also need to co-opt your team into your defensive strategy, educating them about the risks that QR codes can pose. Make sure that they know how to check if a QR code is suspicious or not, and know how to report the code to your IT resource.

Lock Down Your Infrastructure

Of course, you need to be sure that your entire infrastructure—with or without QR codes involved—is properly secured. Regular software updates, strong password policies, and encrypting data are just the start of what these protections need to include. Having the proper security measures will put your entire network in a better, more secure place.

Be Mindful Whenever You Scan a QR Code

QR codes have understandably become very popular due to their convenience, but this convenience also makes them useful to a cybercriminal’s purposes. Understanding and appreciating the potential risks and preparing for them will be necessary for your business to protect itself and its customers. Regularly audit your QR codes, always check any links before navigating to them, and teach your team to act more securely, and you’ll be more prepared to deal with these threats as the use of QR codes continues to permeate daily life.

When it comes to your business’ cybersecurity, we’re here to help. Directive has been working with Upstate New York businesses for years to help them get peak value from their use of technology, ensuring both productivity and security. We’d love to get you started with a consultation. Give us a call at 607.433.2200 today.