Malicious QR codes threat isn’t a new thing in the technical world. However, it now calls for more preventive measures given the recent rise in the adoption of QR codes for transactions to ease business processes. 

And as technology keeps revealing new turns, including a rise in QR code users, cyber attacks keep evolving as well. They employ new approaches and tactics to make money from getting unauthorized access to people’s information and privacy. While this isn’t a new thing, it reveals the high rate of cyber threats that people should be aware of. 

According to a 2021 survey by Statista, 45 percent of United States shoppers (aged 18 to 29) who responded to the survey claimed they had used a QR code three months before the survey. While this metric is gradually growing on the high side, the respondents expressed how important QR codes usage is and how much they believe it is coming to the limelight soon and becoming a permanent part of their mobile phones soonest.

However, becoming vulnerable to QR codes or not is only a subject for discussion if users are aware of the risk involved. This article then explains the best practicable approach and variations to avoid being the next victim of malicious QR codes.

What is a QR code?

A QR code, whose initials stand for quick response code, is a two-dimensional matrix barcode and an optically readable label that helps to store data or information about items efficiently. A QR code is a fast system which is one of the features that adds to its quick readability. It has a lot of applications ranging from:

  • Identification of items
  • Time tracking
  • Management of documents and so on

One of its standard features is that, with its optical readability tendencies, users can easily read the information through a device like a camera for easy interpretation of the item’s components.

The shift from Covid 19 towards a wider usability of QR codes

The outbreak of Covid-19 brought about a shift in how businesses approach their processes. This was the origin. As a business, what comes to your mind when there is an economic crisis is how to make money, irrespective of the situation. The same thing happened in 2020 when the pandemic ravaged the economy, where businesses wondered how best to keep their customers safe and still make money. In times like this, it’s only logical to have an alternative; that’s how the implementation of QR codes came into more light. 

During those times, restaurants, in a bid to avoid transmission make QR code technology that embeds all online ordering menus in place of physical menus. This allows their customers to have a more seamless experience to scan the QR codes and get things done easily. 

According to Bitly President Raleigh Harbour, “restaurants have realized how valuable the technology is, beyond facilitating touchless service.” The link management service provider further affirmed that nothing less than a 750% increase was recorded in the total QR downloads over the last 18 months. 

Given these figures and how they’ve reflected an increase in global usage, you might ask how this relates to QR code scams.

How Do QR Code Scams Work?

Unknowingly getting in contact with a malicious QR code lures you or redirects you to other phishing websites where the attackers access your financial information and other delicate credentials.  

As foreseen, 2022 opens into an uproar of warnings about phishing emails and, ultimately, cyber attacks. Out of all these attacks is an intimate one – QR code scams. This is because you see QR codes cheaply flying around; you see them as images in most cases.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult getting to know a counterfeit QR code and the original one. To worsen the case, cyber attackers now cover the real QR codes with a malicious one such that when you scan the malicious code, it redirects you to a phishing website that accesses the real one. 

According to Aaron Ansari, a vice president for cloud security at the antivirus company Trend Micro, “hackers may like using QR codes in phishing emails because they often aren’t picked up by security software, giving them a better chance to reach their intended targets than attachments or bad links“.

This reveals a shortcoming of why cyber attackers dwell more on loopholes in a system. And since QR codes aren’t always easily detectable by the security software, the focus is then fixated on email users.

BI Special Agent Siobhan Johnson puts it well, saying, “they can get into every account you have if they have enough time,” 

Precautions to avoid QR code threats

Although QR code has various uses in every industry apart from commercial tracking, product labeling, and marketing. The versatility of its use makes it easier for anyone or industry to incorporate it into their business operations. 

While all these abound, there is a need to be careful about its usage. 

Last week, The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned Americans about the rate at which cybercriminals now use malicious QR codes whose sole aim is to attack their delicate information without any traces. 

The FBI added further that “Cybercriminals are tampering with QR codes to redirect victims to malicious sites that steal login and financial information.”

This then calls for more preventive measures as quick response code users rather than reactive after taking the wrong foot on the attackers’ plan. 

The following are some of the practices that could help you: 

  • Be careful when you scan a QR code. And when you do, make sure the URL is the actual place you intended to be
  • Do not click on any link sent as a phishing email or scan any QR code in your email – most times, your security software might not detect them and, that’s why the attackers prefer using phishing emails. 
  • Be sure the QR code doesn’t have an underlaid QR code. If it does, then it means you aren’t safe.
  • Practice safe downloading. Be careful you don’t download an app from any QR code. Also, do not download a QR scanner, increasing your chances of being attacked. 
  • Avoid making payments to a site accessed by a QR code.
  • Always verify any barcode you receive from someone you know before proceeding with the process. 

 Final thought

While the war against cybercriminals seems like a war that won’t end soon, it isn’t enough to know about the war. It boils down more to how individuals and businesses approach it through proactive measures than waiting for breaches before acting on nothing. Also, far from knowing about the war around us is keeping tap on other ways the attack and similar cyber threats can come in. Doing this will keep these malicious attackers at bay and make users more security conscious about new variations of attack they could recreate.

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