Tech Tips

Quick Response (QR) Codes...Convenient and Risky

Tech Tips

QR What?

QR codes are the COVID-friendly way to get your menu when dining out. Little squares posted on a table (or any number of other places) that allow you to access information conveniently and without handling any germy thing the last patron touched….except maybe the table.

What are they really?

A Quick Response (QR) code is a little square that looks like an ink-blot test, but is really much more closely related to a bar code that uses pixels rather than stripes. The codes can be placed almost anywhere: a card at your restaurant’s table, the window of a mall, under the label of the product you just bought, a community bulletin board…the list goes on. Your smart device can read the information and then display text, open a webpage, or perform a wide array of other functions.

People fake this?

QR codes are all over the place, and the naked eye cannot decipher them. This mystery makes them an exciting way to find your prize or follow a fun marketing ploy. Their condensed form makes them a convenient way to access marketing or menu information online without the hassle of putting in a URL. But these attributes also make QR codes easy to fake. Free apps allow anyone to generate a custom QR code in about a minute. A faked QR code could be pasted (either physically or electronically) over a completely valid one and it would be very difficult to tell just by looking.

What’s the big deal?

The most frequently encountered risks of following a counterfeit QR code are the same as clicking on any link of unknown origin: The page on which you land could be malicious. A quick recap of some dangerous features:

  • Phishing for data while faking a legitimate site
  • Containing a malware download or virus
  • Corrupting your privacy settings
  • Enabling microphone/camera/GPS, then harvesting the data

The list above is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully gives an idea of the dangers of scanning a malicious QR code.

So how can I avoid the threat?

Only use your device to scan QR codes from trusted sources. Look at the physical code as well: Is it laminated or printed on? Does it look like a sticker that may have been attached after printing?

Once a QR code is scanned, most smartphone cameras will list the URL to which the code is directing you. It is a lot like hovering over a link in your email. Take advantage of this time to double check the URL is a place you expect to go, and that it includes no typos or other red flags. Your due diligence just might keep you from getting hacked.


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