Security and QR codes: Pitfalls to avoid

Have you ever scanned a QR code? These little black and white squares have taken our world by storm, becoming a daily tool for quickly connecting to online information. Whether it's accessing a restaurant menu, getting product details, or getting an exclusive promotion, QR codes seem to be everywhere.

But do you know what hides behind an unknown QR code?

In this article, we'll navigate the world of QR codes and learn how to use them safely.

What is a QR code?

Before we dive into the potential risks of QR codes, let's first see what they are. So what is a QR code?

A QR code is like a complex black and white puzzle that your phone can solve instantly.

As you can see in the image below, it looks like a square filled with weird patterns.

But every pattern has a meaning. When you point your phone's camera at the code, your phone solves this puzzle. Then it turns patterns into information: a website, a digital business card, a restaurant menu, and more.

In other words, a QR code is a kind of shortcut that leads you instantly to a large amount of information, without having to type anything. It's fast, it's simple, and that's why we see them all around us.

The Dangers of QR Codes

Just like other aspects of our digital life, QR codes are not free from dangers. Even though these black and white squares may seem harmless, it's important to remember that they can be used for less benevolent intentions.

Indeed, according to a research conducted by ExpressVPN, the growing popularity of QR codes has caught the attention of cybercriminals. These malicious individuals have developed tactics to disguise their malicious attacks in the form of seemingly ordinary QR codes.

In the following, we will find out how cybercriminals can use QR codes to take control of your phone or to steal your private information.

1) Phishing or Phishing

The first risk associated with QR codes is the Phishing. This technique aims to trick people into believing that they are on a safe and legitimate site. Indeed, with a QR code, you could be taken to a malicious site that asks for your personal information.

Imagine this: you are in a café and you see a QR code on a poster that promises an attractive discount on your next coffee purchase. It's tempting, isn't it? You pull out your phone, scan the code, and you find yourself on a site that looks exactly like the cafe's official site. Without hesitation, you enter your credit card information to take advantage of the promotion.

This is when things take an unexpected turn. The site the QR code directed you to is not the actual coffee site. Indeed, it has been created by cyber criminals to look just like the official site. When you entered your credit card information, you did not sign up for a discount. Instead of that, you gave your credit card information to cybercriminals.

2) Network attacks

Next in the list of risks is related to network attacks. If you scan a malicious QR code while connected to a public Wi-Fi network, it can potentially open a door for cybercriminals and put all data circulating on that network at risk.

3) Locating your location

The third danger is related to the disclosure of your location. QR codes, often used to simplify itineraries, sometimes hide an unsuspected risk.

Suppose you are at a conference and see a QR code offering additional information about the event. Intrigued, you scan it. Immediately, a card appears.

However, you may not realize the hidden danger. By opening this map, you could disclose your location. Indeed, a malicious QR code can betray your position.

Worse still, the site associated with the QR code could transmit your location data to cybercriminals. A real threat not to be underestimated.

4) A phone call that leaks your information

After location, another risk of QR codes: triggering phone calls. An unknown but very real danger.

You scan a QR code. Without warning, your phone initiates a call. A harmless action in appearance, but not without consequence.

In fact, this simple call can share your information fromcaller id. Your number, carrier, or even your location can be exposed.

Ultimately, someone collects this information. Cybercriminals can then use this data.

Identify and avoid malicious QR codes

As we have seen before, QR codes can pose a great risk to your security and privacy. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself.

Below are 4 steps you can take to reduce the risk, while enjoying the benefits offered by QR codes.

1. Check the URL before clicking

When you scan a QR code, take the time to check the URL it directs you to. If the URL looks suspicious, don't click on it.

If you're using an iPhone's built-in camera app, a cool feature comes your way: when you point the camera at a QR code, the website address (or "domain") encoded in the QR is displayed. This gives you some reassurance, letting you know which domain you will be redirected to before you make the decision to open it or not.

2. Only scan QR codes from trusted sources

If you see a QR code in a public place, like a bus stop or street pole, be very careful. It is easy for anyone to stick a sticker with a malicious QR code in these places. It is best to use QR codes from reliable and verifiable sources.

3. Keep your phone up to date

Make sure your phone's operating system is always up to date. Security updates are often included in operating system updates. These security updates can help protect your phone from malicious QR codes.

4. Disable geolocation feature

As we have seen before, QR codes can sometimes be designed to access the location of your phone. For this reason, it is a good idea to disable geofencing when scanning QR codes from an untrusted source.

In your smartphone settings, under the privacy tab, you will usually find the option to disable geolocation. On iOS, for example, you can go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services to manage this feature. You can choose when and how your location is used.


And There you go ! Armed with this information, you are now ready to navigate the world of QR codes with confidence and serenity.

Do not hesitate to circulate these valuable tips among your loved ones. The more we are informed of the potential dangers and the more we adopt cautious behaviors, the more our experience of the digital world will become safe and pleasant.

So, share this article and help create a safe digital space for everyone. Digital security is a collective matter and your contribution matters a lot