Are QR Codes Safe? An Overview of QR Code Security
Although QR Codes have been around since the ‘90s, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly boosted their use around the globe. Marketers, business owners, and entrepreneurs use QR Codes to communicate everything from promotions to restaurant menus to payment gateways.
But this begs the question: Are QR Codes safe? Can these codes be hacked to target unsuspecting web visitors? In this guide, we’ll answer this question and provide some helpful tips to maximize the security of your QR Code technology.
Table of contents
- Are QR Codes safe?
- Can QR Codes be hacked?
- Potential QR Code security issues
- Best practices for increasing QR Code security
- How QR Code technology enhances security
- What personal information does QR Code tracking collect?
- Time and number of scans
- Operating system
- Additional benefits of QR Codes
Are QR Codes safe?
The short answer is yes, QR Codes are secure. Static QR Codes are machine-readable and the content inside them cannot be changed once generated. The content inside a Dynamic QR Code, however, can be changed, but you would need access to the user account that created them in the first place.
However, while QR Codes aren’t hackable by virtue of their design, cybercriminals can still create malicious QR Codes to lure unsuspecting people into a false sense of security. For example, a hacker can develop a malicious QR Code that directs a person to a website or app that contains a virus.
Is it safe to scan QR Codes on iPhones and Androids?
It’s not harmful to scan QR Codes on Apple iPhones or Androids. Both devices rely on a camera to scan the codes and pull up an external window.
No immediate action is taken, so scanning fake QR Codes won’t harm your device. Again, QR Codes are harmless when it comes to their design. However, you should still be wary about scanning QR Codes from sources you’re not familiar with.
Can QR Codes be hacked?
The actual QR Codes themselves can’t be hacked. This is because they are built using a square matrix with pixelated dots so these dots would have to be changed in order to be “hacked.” QR Code technology is not a security risk alone. The security issues arise from the information connected to the QR Code.
Potential QR Code security issues
There are some associated security risks with scanning QR Codes if they don’t come from a trusted sender. There are three types of security risks related to QR Codes, but remember that these risks have nothing to do with the technology of QR Codes themselves.
Phishing is a common way that hackers break into websites. Usually, they start by sending a fake login page for the website via email.
An unsuspecting person may find this email quite convincing, as they can include company logos and similar graphics styles so it does look like a real company. Once this login information is sent, the attacker can easily access the website.
Where this comes into play with QR Codes is during the scanning process. Ads for websites often contain QR Codes that direct users to a specific landing page. What can happen is that the link created for this website has been redirected to a new website with security issues.
The key is that the website looks professional and like a real company so that users feel comfortable with providing personal information. Particularly on mobile, most users also don’t take the time to check if the URL looks strange.
The digital sphere is not the only space where this happens. Hackers can also place print QR Codes in public places so that people scanning them can enter a type of login information.
It can be especially dangerous if this login is for websites such as online banking or other sensitive data.
The security risk related to malicious software comes with downloads, many of which are directed at Android users due to open-source software.
Known as a “drive-by download attack,” the process involves sending a user to a specific website that automatically forces a download without any user action.
Even just being on the website is enough for the download to occur. In the case of mobile, hidden apps infect the device by stealing information or sending messages to premium numbers. They can even collect and sell personal data.
Hackers use QR Codes to aid in this process because they use the code to direct users to a website that begins this download process. Again, users don’t often check the URL to see if it looks strange, and the website may also look completely normal.
The third type of security risk also involves dangerous websites.
Not only can these websites download malicious software and steal user information, but they can also do things like activating the camera, accessing browser data, sending spam emails, or using the device to perform further attacks on other users.
The tricky part is that the user doesn’t see any of this. It’s all done invisibly in the background.
Best practices for increasing QR Code security
QR Codes are inherently safe, but hackers can still compromise your technology if you aren’t vigilant. With that said, here are some best practices for making your QR Codes safe for everyone.
Use reputable QR Code generators and scanners
Hackers and threat actors don’t just target destination links when compromising QR Codes. They can also infect QR Code generators with malicious content, such as intrusive ads and viruses.
Through high-level obfuscation, malicious content can go undetected in QR Code scanners. Your device can also get infected once you download an infected QR scanner or code generator.
This is exactly what happened to several users who downloaded a malicious barcode scanner a few years ago. For this reason, perform your due diligence before choosing a QR Code generator.
You can check app store online reviews, product reviews, and forums to see honest reviews for a possible product. QR Code Generator is an excellent option, and we prioritize security to keep you and your data safe.
Check for signs of tampering
Double-check that the QR Code on the material looks original and fits with the design. The original QR Code may have been replaced with a sticker of a malicious one—particularly when scanning QR Codes from print materials in public places.
Verify the company and given URL
This is one of the most important points that all QR Code users should double-check. Before even scanning, think:
- Does this company look legitimate?
- Does the design look professional?
- Does the QR Code match?
If this all checks out, once you’ve scanned the QR Code and are redirected to a website, use the same company verification process.
Furthermore, it’s extremely important to check the URL and see if it’s composed strangely, differs from the website graphics, or has two different names.
Avoid providing personal information if directed to another website
If any particular website you are directed to asks for permissions to receive your personal information, do not enter anything like login information, Wi-Fi, passwords, phone number, or credit card details.
Many marketing campaigns may ask for your name and email or to make direct purchases, so in these cases, you have to decide for yourself whether or not it feels secure. Regardless of the context, if something seems fishy, don’t do it.
Use security applications on mobile devices
Anti-virus and anti-malware software should be a staple on any phone, the same as many people have long been using for desktops.
Security software can help to stop drive-by download attacks and give notifications for strange URLs.
Furthermore, it’s also possible to disable the “open website automatically” function of a cell phone so that when a QR Code captures the URL, you aren’t automatically sent there and have a chance to view the URL first.
How QR Code technology enhances security
While QR Codes aren’t completely safe from hackers, they’re still more secure than most data-sharing methods. Here are some ways QR Code technology can improve your security measures.
For online profiles that contain sensitive private and financial information, many institutions have implemented two-factor authentication (2FA).
This adds an extra step after you’ve put in your login information by showing a QR Code that must be scanned by your cell phone, in which the website recognizes that you are the real user.
Believe it or not, QR Codes can help facilitate secure payment transactions. Since QR Codes can be changed dynamically, it becomes difficult for fraudsters to intercept and reuse the information. So you can rest easy knowing your QR Codes are secure if you’re directing customers to complete a payment, which is why more businesses choose QR Codes vs. NFC.
Banks, in particular, have found the use of QR Code technology. QR Codes function well for online banking processes in general, including two-factor authentication login, accessing certain sections of the profile with especially sensitive data as well as confirming bank transfers.
Deutsche Bank, one of the leading banks in Europe, even has a particular app known as a photoTAN. This app provides users with a photoTAN QR Code that should be scanned to confirm each bank transaction by providing a set of numbers to enter for each individual bank transfer.
What personal information does QR Code tracking collect?
The purpose of QR Code tracking is so that marketers can better optimize marketing campaigns.
If you’re curious about what types of information QR Code tracking collects with the QR Code generator software, it encompasses three points: location, time, and operating system of the device used to make the scan.
No personally identifiable information is collected, and this data is only visible privately to the user who created the Codes.
QR Code tracking gathers user data for both city and country locations. This does not include specific locations within a city.
Time and number of scans
Total scans, unique scans, and how many scans occur over a certain time period are also tracked with QR Code Generator software.
The operating system of the device used is also provided in the QR Code tracking details, but there is no further information about the user.
QR Codes and GDPR
For users that create QR Codes using QR Code Generator software, only those who have access to the QR Codes can scan them.
This means whoever they’re sent to or wherever they’re marketed, users can view and scan them. It’s possible to create further security measures for access to linked content from QR Codes, but QR Code Generator doesn’t influence this.
Additional benefits of QR Codes
QR Codes simplify digital business transformation by providing many benefits for marketers, entrepreneurs, social media content creators, and more. These benefits include:
There are all kinds of creative uses for QR Codes, as this technology can also encode lots of different data, including URLs, text, contact details, and other information. Overall, you can get a lot of use and value from investing in QR Code technology.
Convenient access to information
Perhaps the greatest benefit of QR technology is its ease of use. QR Codes can be easily scanned by a phone’s camera, eliminating the need for the user to type in long URLs to view important information.
Enhanced promotion and marketing
Businesses can integrate QR Codes into their marketing campaigns. Users can scan these codes to easily check out promotional content, product details, and special deals on their smartphones.
Dynamic QR Codes can be monitored for analytics, giving creators real-time data and insights concerning scan frequency, time and location, and the type of device used.
These insights can be used to refine marketing campaigns and improve ROI. QR Code Generator offers several metrics you can use to gauge the performance of your codes and make adjustments.
With QR Code Generator, safety and security come first
Overall, QR Codes are highly secure compared to typical data-sharing methods. However, you can’t be too careful in reinforcing your QR technology’s security to protect yourself and your users.
If you’re looking for a high-quality QR Code generator that leverages high-level security, you’ve come to the right place. QR Code Generator makes it easy to create Dynamic QR Codes and use them across a wide range of campaigns and applications.
Get started today by signing up for an account.