QR Codes – An Influence or a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen?

3 Jun

It’s midway through 2021, and the world has changed exponentially over the past year and a half. We’re bumping elbows, heading off on staycations, and we’ve all stepped up a level or two when it comes to digital technology. In fact, industry pros estimate that global digital transformation has sped up a whopping seven years. As far as digital tech goes, many of us are  pretty well-advanced.

People who could hardly work a mobile device before have had no choice but to learn to Facetime, Zoom, or use Meetings. Online ordering systems flourished, grocery stores started doing deliveries, and people started working from home. Of course, we’re advanced; we’ve been forced into it!

Before COVID-19 struck, you might have used, or seen people using a mobile phone with a QR code to check into a flight and pass-through security or gain access to an event or venue. Some businesses have even used a QR code to track the movement and health status of their staff. In fact, if you’ve used payment services such as Zapper and Snapscan, you’ve used a QR code in those transactions too.

Now that the general population is becoming so familiar with QR codes, one maybe needs to ask, are they safe? Are they every bit the influential convenience we see them as, or are they just another security catastrophe waiting to happen?

the qr code – opportunity to criminals

As more and more people are scanning and tapping with their mobile devices to go places and get things done or pay their accounts, complacency sets in. People stop questioning whether their QR code scanning activities are a risk and simply go through the motions: scan, tap, swipe – you know the drill. And therein lies the opportunity for criminals.

To illustrate this point, one only has to consider that studies done in 2020 revealed that 71% of people who scan QR codes have no way of telling the difference between a malicious code and a legitimate one.

the possible risks when using qr codes

QR codes can be used to sign into networks and gain access to a flight or a concert, but they can also be used to deploy malicious codes on your mobile device. Here’s what a fake QR code can do:

  • Send you to a malicious URL that’s used for phishing
  • Make an instant payment that comes off your credit card or mobile contract balance
  • Force your mobile to call an expensive call centre
  • Force your mobile to make an outgoing call that exposes your number to a scammer
  • Send information about your location
  • Send an email or text message on your behalf

how to ensure you’re not scanning malicious qr codes

There are a few ways you can determine if a QR code is legitimate or not. Here are a few tips:

  • Question where the QR code is placed. If a QR code is printed on a pizza box, the chances are that it’s more legitimate than a QR code handed to you at the robots by someone in plain clothing.
  • Many QR codes offer the option of viewing the URL of the code. If it looks suspicious, don’t process the scan.
  • If the URL is a bit.ly address, it’s best to be cautious. Criminals often use bit.ly URLs to disguise malicious addresses.

don’t give criminals a chance

Always practice caution when using QR codes which offer a quick and easy way to enter competitions or link to a special offer. Sometimes you have to use them if a company makes use of QR codes to provide access to premises but make sure that you do due diligence and don’t put yourself in a risky position. Your data is worth a lot – protect it!

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