Learn to safely scan QR codes to protect against hidden cyber threats and maintain your personal data security

Quick Response (QR) codes have surged in popularity in recent years, fueled by a mix of their convenience, efficiency and their increased use in a world adapting to touchless transactions. As a result of the pandemic, these black and white squares have been ubiquitous, appearing on everything from restaurant menus to event tickets and marketing materials. Yet, as with any technology, they’re not without their risks. It’s crucial to ensure the safety of a QR code before scanning it. 

What is a QR Code? 

A QR code is a type of barcode that can be read using a smartphone or a QR code reader. It typically contains information about a product, service or a URL that redirects you to a particular website. Users can access this information instantly by simply scanning the code with the camera of a smartphone. 

Despite their convenience, QR codes can also pose significant security risks. Cybercriminals can easily create a malicious QR code that, once scanned, redirects you to a phishing website designed to steal your personal information or downloads malware onto your device. 

How to Ensure the Safety of a QR Code Before Scanning 

  • Be Cautious Where You Scan 

When scanning a QR code, it’s important to be cautious about the location. It’s best to avoid scanning codes in public places, particularly if they’re stickers that anyone could have placed. 

  • Check for Tampering 

Inspect the QR code for signs of tampering, such as a sticker placed over the original code. Businesses and other entities that use QR codes often print them directly on their materials. A sticker could indicate someone has replaced the genuine code with a malicious one. 

  • Use a Secure QR Code Scanner 

Consider using a QR code scanner that verifies the safety of a website before it loads in your browser. Certain scanners have the capability to identify if the website you are about to visit is associated with phishing or malware. 

  • Preview the URL 

Some QR code scanners offer a ‘preview’ function before you open the link. This feature allows you to see where the QR code will take you before you commit to opening the website. Ensure the URL is one you recognize and trust before proceeding. 

  • Keep Your Mobile Devices Updated 

Regularly updating your smartphone’s operating system and apps can ensure you’re protected from known security flaws and vulnerabilities. These updates often include patches for these flaws, so you’re enhancing your protection by keeping your device up-to-date. 

  • Be Wary of Inputting Personal Information 

It’s important to be careful when providing personal information after scanning a QR code, especially if the code is found in a public space. If a website requests sensitive information such as your name, credit card number or Social Security number, verify the authenticity of the request before proceeding. 

While QR codes are a convenient tool in our modern world, they are not without risks. Following these steps can mitigate the risk of falling victim to a QR code scam. Remember, vigilance and informed caution are the keys to staying safe online and offline. If you would like to start a discussion about how you can protect yourself in today’s cyber threat environment, contact an Adams Brown tech advisor.