QR codes have become a popular tool for businesses to quickly and easily share information with customers. However, cybercriminals have found a way to exploit this technology for their own malicious purposes. In recent years, there has been a rise in QR code scams and vulnerabilities in businesses, making it crucial for companies to understand the risks and take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their customers.
In this article, we will explore the use of QR codes by cybercriminals, the potential vulnerabilities they pose for businesses, and how companies can improve their QR code security.
The Rise of QR Code Scams
What are QR Codes?
QR codes, or Quick Response codes, are two-dimensional barcodes that can be scanned by a smartphone camera to quickly access information. They are commonly used in marketing and advertising to direct customers to a website, social media page, or product information.
They started to regain popularity during the pandemic, as restaurants would use them as an alternative to handing out menus, which would need to be sanitized after each use.
How are Cybercriminals Exploiting QR Codes?
A QR code is just a line of text or a hyperlink to a website. They are extremely simple. The maximum amount of information a QR code can contain is a little under 4300 alphanumeric characters. That’s not a lot, but it’s definitely enough to store a link or a short command.
Cybercriminals have found ways to manipulate QR codes to direct users to malicious websites or download malware onto their devices. They can do this by creating fake QR codes that look identical to legitimate ones, or by hacking into a legitimate QR code and replacing the intended destination with a malicious one. More often than not though, it’s as simple as making a fake QR code, printing it out on a sticker, and putting it somewhere where people might try to scan it.
Examples of QR Code Scams
One example of a QR code scam is when a cybercriminal creates a fake QR code and places it over a legitimate one on a product or advertisement. When a customer scans the code, they are directed to a fake website that looks identical to the legitimate one. The customer may then unknowingly enter personal information or download malware onto their device.
Another example is when a cybercriminal hacks into a legitimate QR code and changes the destination to a malicious website. This can happen with QR codes on business cards, flyers, or even restaurant menus. When a customer scans the code, they are directed to the malicious website, putting their device and personal information at risk.
How Can This Hurt Your Business?
Even if your business doesn’t utilize QR codes, you are still at risk. Remember, your business is only as secure as its most susceptible end user.
Employees may unknowingly put the company at risk by scanning a malicious QR code. This can happen when an employee is using their personal device for work purposes or when they are not properly trained on how to identify and handle suspicious QR codes.
Lack of QR Code Security Measures
Many businesses do not have proper security measures in place to protect against QR code scams. This can include not verifying the source of the QR code or not regularly checking for any changes to the code. If you utilize QR codes in your marketing or communication, it is a good idea to audit your QR codes regularly to make sure they still work. After all, even stuff on your website can change pretty often, and if not managed correctly, a change to your website might mean QR codes that go to a 404 error. This is just a good practice overall.
Integration with Business Systems
QR codes are often integrated with business systems, such as inventory management or payment processing. If these systems are not properly secured, cybercriminals can exploit vulnerabilities in the QR code to gain access to sensitive information or disrupt business operations.
Improving QR Code Security
Verify the Source
Before scanning a QR code, it is important to verify the source. This can be done by checking the URL of the destination website or by using a QR code scanner that displays the URL before redirecting. Most default QR code scanners and smartphone camera apps will tell you where the link is going when you scan the QR code, giving you time to take a look at it.
Use common sense and phishing prevention best practices.
Regularly Check for Changes
Businesses should regularly check for any changes to their QR codes, such as the destination URL or the appearance of the code itself. This can help identify any potential tampering by cybercriminals.
Employee training is crucial in preventing QR code scams. Businesses should educate their employees on how to identify suspicious QR codes and what to do if they come across one. This can include using a trusted QR code scanner or reporting the code to the appropriate department.
Secure Business Systems
Businesses should ensure that their systems, especially those integrated with QR codes, are properly secured. This can include implementing strong passwords, regularly updating software, and using encryption to protect sensitive information.
Having basic cybersecurity protections across your entire network and all of your endpoints will help mitigate some threats as well.
Think Before You Scan that QR Code!
QR codes have become a popular tool for businesses, but they also pose a risk for cybercriminals to exploit. By understanding the potential vulnerabilities and taking necessary precautions, businesses can protect themselves and their customers from QR code scams. Regularly checking for changes, verifying the source, and educating employees are all important steps in improving QR code security. With the rise of QR code usage, it is crucial for businesses to prioritize their QR code security to prevent any potential breaches or scams.
Looking for help with your cybersecurity? Dresner Group bakes security into everything we do. We help Maryland businesses get more out of their technology and stay secure in an increasingly dangerous online world.
Get started with a consultation by calling (410) 531-6727 today!