While QR code security is a highly debated issue worldwide, QR codes are generally secure. Security issues only arise when hackers use QR codes to lead users to malicious websites like malware hosts or phishing pages. Read on to learn more.

What Is a QR Code?

A quick response (QR) code is a code that a machine, such as a smartphone, a tablet, or any computer system with a QR reader can read easily. It typically looks like this:

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_code#/media/File:QR_code_for_mobile_English_Wikipedia.svg

It is a two-dimensional barcode or optical label that contains information about the item it is attached to or related to. It often contains locator, identifier, or tracker data that points to a website or application.

Where Do QR Codes Hail From?

The first QR code was designed in 1994 for the automotive industry in Japan. It was invented by Masahiro Hara from Denso Wave, automotive components manufacturer Denso’s subsidiary, which produces automatic identification products, industrial robots, and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). For those of you who don’t know, a PLC is an industrial computer control system that monitors input devices’ state.

The QR code’s initial design was inspired by a Go game board. And its original purpose? What else but to track vehicles during manufacturing.

What Are QR Codes Used For?

Since their inception in Japan, QR codes are now used in more industries for commercial tracking and convenience-oriented uses targeting smartphone users. In such cases, they can display text for users, open a web page on their devices, connect to a wireless network, and more.

Can QR Codes Get Hacked?

Actual QR codes can’t get hacked because they are created using a square matrix with pixelated dots that would need to be changed to get hacked. When people talk about QR code security, therefore, hacking occurs on the information connected to a particular QR code, not on the code itself.

What Threats Are Associated with QR Code Use?

QR codes that come from untrusted sources or unknown people or organizations can present dangers that include:


Attackers can turn a QR code “malicious” by hacking the website it is connected to. How? First, they create a phishing page. They then hack the website the QR code points so it redirects anyone who “reads” the code to their specially crafted phishing page.

In some cases, attackers can print QR codes that point to a phishing page and post these in public places. Anyone who scans the code can thus end up losing their personal information to cybercriminals.


In such an attack, hackers can create a download page that automatically drops a piece of malware onto the user’s device. As in phishing, they then hack the website a mass-distributed QR code points to. Anyone who lands on the compromised site can be redirected to the malware host.

How Can You Avoid QR Code-Related Security Threats?

Here are some tips and tricks to stay safe from QR code-related security threats:

Check for Signs of Printed QR Code Tampering

This tip is handy when it comes to scanning printed QR codes posted in public places. Make sure the original code has not been replaced with a sticker of a malicious one.

Verify the QR Code Creator

Before even scanning a QR code, make sure the company that created it is legitimate. Attackers have been known to create fake companies for their scams. They use very convincing ruses, too, like contests or giving away freebies, although all you’ll actually get is your personal data or even money stolen.

Be Wary of Shortened Links

When you scan a QR code, you’ll be notified of the Uniform Resource Link (URL) that it points to. If a shortened link appears, best not to click it. Attackers have been known to use shortened URLs to evade detection.

Never Give Out Personal Information on Unknown Websites

Any website that asks you to hand out personal data should be treated with caution. And if you do not know nor have had previous contact with a site a QR code leads to, best not to access it.

Install a Security Application on Your Mobile Devices

Treat your smartphone and other mobile devices as you would your desktop or laptop. Much like threat actors go after unprotected personal computers (PCs), so do they target vulnerable mobile devices.

As you’ve seen, while QR codes are generally secure, the web pages they point or redirect to may not be. Take the necessary precaution before even thinking of scanning QR codes to stay protected against threats like phishing and malware infection.