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Risky Business


Tips and tricks for securing information


Navigating QR Code Security in a Contactless World

By Peter Andrews-Briscoe, on 30 October 2023

In the digital age, QR codes have emerged as a convenient tool for quickly accessing information with just a scan – whether it’s viewing a restaurant’s menu, connecting to Wi-Fi, or making a quick payment. Since the world went contactless over the pandemic, many of us will have had experiences of using them. Yet QR codes can just as easily be used by scammers for hostile purposes. These attacks can be simple enough, consisting of placing a QR code in a public place, such as on posters advertising products or placed in seemingly random areas to pique your curiosity. Instead, though, the code will direct you to a malicious link. 

So what makes QR code scams so effective? 

  1. Curiosity: An intriguing QR code left in a public place can easily attract someone’s attention, either by presenting itself as an advertisement, or placed without any context to pique someone’s curiosity. 
  1. Unassuming: Unlike traditional phishing emails or messages, QR codes are faceless. A person can easily have seen enough phishing emails to know how to spot one, but QR codes are a far newer phenomenon, and give away far less information on the surface. This can also make them appear less threatening, not having enough details to arouse suspicion. 
  1. Immediacy: Scanning a QR code takes mere seconds, giving individuals less time to think critically about the action they’re taking. 

Fortunately, there are ways to safeguard yourself against QR code scams: 

  1. Be Sceptical: Always think twice before scanning a QR code from an unknown source. Even from a source that seems safe (such as a QR code on a parking meter) can be a fake code placed over the real one. 
  1. Preview the Link: Some smartphones and QR code reader apps offer a feature that allows you to preview the URL before it opens. You can use it to see if the link looks suspicious, which should help you determine if it’s malicious or not. 
  1. Keep Software Updated: Always ensure your mobile operating system and security software are up-to-date, as updates often include fixes for newly discovered vulnerabilities, making your device more resistant to any malware. 
  1. Report Suspicious Codes: If you encounter a suspicious QR code, report it to local authorities to prevent others from falling victim to the scam. 

QR codes have simplified many aspects of our life, but as with any technology, they come with risks. By being vigilant and taking appropriate precautions, you can enjoy the benefits of QR codes without falling prey to the hidden dangers. 



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