What is QR Code and What To Check Before Scanning?

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Perhaps you’re familiar with the black matrix images on white backgrounds, usually in a grid on different items you purchase at stores and even online. QR codes you scan to obtain accurate information about a product, but they can contain more than that. 

Do you know that your information can be at risk from scanning the wrong QR codes? As with many digital products, some risks are attached to scanning some QR codes. 

Some risks include exporting vital information obtained through permission for using your device’s microphone, full internet access, contact editing permission, and so on. However, you can detect a malicious QR code from its structure.

This article will help you understand QR codes better and help you identify the possible privacy risks you may be exposed to from scanning malicious QR codes. You’ll also get to know how to recognize these malicious QR codes and how to generate your QR codes.

What is a QR Code?

A QR code, also known as a Quick Response Code, is a type of two-dimensional barcode – a matrix barcode – that is machine-readable and contains information about the item it is attached to. 

It was first used in the Japanese automobile industry in 1994 and has since gained acceptance worldwide, even with digital products.

QR codes are an improvement over the barcode, and they usually contain information that helps track or locate an item, which is why they’re common on products that have to pass through logistics. 

They also contain direct URL links to digital products, saving users the stress of typing full website addresses and also saving them time. 

QR codes are made of three squares at the upper right and left corners of their grid, and another at the bottom left corner, containing the information of the QR code. 

The other parts of the code include correctors, as they help users of the code to access the correct URL still even when the code in the squares is damaged, the alignment pattern, and the timing pattern.

Before this age, QR codes were read by specific readers, but now, Android and iOS devices, with improved cameras, come with built-in QR code readers. Users get notified that the codes have been successfully read or get redirected to a website.

Parts of a QR Code

The different parts of a QR code come together to form the white background and black matrix. The black matrix comprises most parts of the code, and they’re made of binary numbers and transferred to patterns. To better understand a QR code, here are its parts:

Parts of a QR Code - CodersTool

The quiet zone

The quiet zone is the white area around the borders of the QR code. It allows the scanner to distinguish between the QR code – the black matrix area – and the free area, facilitating easy code reading.

The detection markers

These are the two top right and left squares and the bottom left square. They are responsible for directing the scanner in the direction it should read the code and aiding in the correct reading of the code.

The timing pattern

This line connects two of the three squares on the QR code, usually on the horizontal and vertical planes. It guides the scanner in reading the squares and helps it determine the matrix’s size.

The alignment pattern

The alignment pattern is a small square that ensures the code is readable on curved or skewed surfaces. Depending on how big it is, there can be more than one alignment pattern on a QR code.

The format information

It contains the error tolerance and data mask pattern of the code. It ensures that the QR code is still readable and has essential support for the correction keys.

The version information

It tells the scanner which version of the QR code is being used, and it’s usually beside the top right square and the lower left square.

The data and correction keys

This is the site of the QR code data. It shares its data with the correction keys so that if up to 30% of the data is compromised, it can read data from other parts to provide the required information.

Applications of QR Code-How it is used

QR codes have seen an increase in adoption, especially since the COVID-19 lockdown period. Many industries have adopted QR codes for logistics, cataloging, tracking, authentication, information sharing, and access to payment gateways.

From the manufacturing industries to the food industry – restaurants and bars, hospitality, financial, and retail industries, QR codes are used to direct clients and customers to websites they need to be to do some activities, usually payment or to supply certain information.

As QR codes have become widespread, and every industry, including the e-commerce industry, has adopted the use of QR codes, you must have yours as it makes business operations easier.

What are the Risks of Using a QR Code?

With the ease QR codes provide in carrying out certain business operations and sharing vital information, there are risks attached to using QR codes for business owners and consumers.

QR codes are susceptible to hacking, and one of the common ways QR codes are made malicious is called “attack tagging,” otherwise named “attaging”. It is a situation where a malicious QR code is placed over a legitimate one to cause data leakage from the reader.

Risks of scanning a QR code include:

Security breach

Malicious QR codes can redirect users to a website that is equipped to deactivate their privacy settings and access their private information, such as transactions, contact, photos, voice messages, and calls and redirect them to a remote server.

Your passwords can also be analyzed on such websites.

Data harvesting

Important data on your mobile phone, used as a QR code reader, can be harvested and stored in a remote server.

Common targets are financial account passwords, sensitive images and videos, important contact data, and so on.

Data change and editing

Your passwords, security settings, and other essential data, such as contact details, can be changed or edited. Hackers can access your device from the website you’ve accessed through their malicious QR code.

Virus infection

Getting viruses from destination websites to your mobile device is also common. These viruses can act as hackers’ spies or may target important files and corrupt the data they contain.

Identity theft

One of the most feared risks associated with scanning QR codes is the possibility that your identity can be stolen. With details such as your passwords, usernames, email addresses, and personal details stored on your device and accessible by the hackers, it’s easy for your identity to be used for criminal activities.

What to Check Before Scanning QR Codes

Since scanning QR codes is risky, how do you recognize those safe to scan? Are there features that are common to malicious QR codes?

Unfortunately, you won’t find special features on malicious QR codes, but you can ensure your safety from identity and data theft by doing the following.

  • When paying for a product in a store, ensure that the QR code you’re scanning has no other code beneath it. Most stores’ payment gateway QR codes are painted to a surface. If they are plastered against a surface, ask about them from the store employees.
  • Ensure that the website you’ve been directed to is the one you intended. Check for spelling errors in the URL to ensure it’s correct.
  • Only use QR codes with merchants that you trust.
  • Don’t fill in any suspicious details on platforms you don’t trust.
  • Enable two-factor authentication on all your financial applications.

How to Get QR Codes

You can make your operations easier by using QR codes as a business owner. However, getting a QR code seems like a complex process, but it isn’t. A tool such as the QR Code Generator makes it easy to have one.

In the code, you can embed your URL and other information, phone number, email address, SMS, and so on. Your customers can also pay through a QR code generated with QR Code Generator.

The process entails:

Choosing your QR Code’s Purpose

You should know why you want to create a QR code. The QR code generator provides different options, including URL, virtual card, email, SMS, and phone number, to choose from.

Choose one of the options that suit your purpose.

Filling in the required details

Depending on your chosen purpose, fields to fill in the required details will appear. Supply the necessary information correctly.

Choose image size

The next step is choosing the size you’ll like your QR code. The default size is 200×200. However, you can choose sizes as small as 50×50 or as big as 500×500.

Choose an error correction level

Choose an appropriate error correction level. You have choices between L, M, H, and Q. The default selection is H.

Create QR Code

Having filled in all the necessary details and selected the appropriate error correction level choice and image size, click on the “Create QR Code” tab.

Final Thought

QR codes are quick response codes that carry information about a product or entity and are hidden in a matrix. It comprises different parts, including the quiet zone and the alignment markers. QR codes make some business operations, such as payments for products, easier. It’s easy and convenient for anyone to create and utilize a QR code generator for commercial or non-commercial use.