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What is QR code phishing, and how can your business defend against it?

25 January, 2024

When it comes to phishing attacks, it’s worth staying alert to the latest threats.


Phishing attacks are the most common form of attack that businesses and organisations face; worse still, they’re constantly evolving to incorporate new technologies and psychological angles of attack.


The latest of those new technologies is QR codes, which rose to prominence during the pandemic and have since become a mainstay of modern life.


In this blog post, we'll delve into what QR code phishing is, how it works, why it's becoming a prominent threat, and, most importantly, how organisations can defend against it.


What is QR phishing?


We’ve all heard of QR codes, those square barcodes that have started appearing everywhere, from restaurant menus to bus stop advertisements.


But how often do you scan them without knowing exactly what they’ll do, and where they’ll take you?


Scammers have latched onto this notion and are utilising QR codes in phishing emails, sending you and your team to fake websites where they can trick you into inputting confidential data or unknowingly download malware onto your device.


What makes QR code attacks so dangerous?


QR code attacks pose a serious cybersecurity threat for several reasons. First, they exploit the convenience and ubiquity of QR codes, which most people scan without a second thought. This allows scammers to direct victims to malicious sites effortlessly.


Second, QR codes can direct users to websites that look identical to legitimate ones. Without carefully checking the URL, victims may not realise they've landed on a fake phishing site. This enables scammers to steal login credentials and sensitive data seamlessly.


Finally, QR code attacks can compromise devices and full networks if malware is downloaded from a scanned code. A single infected device can provide access to additional cyberattacks.


Why do QR code attacks work?


QR code phishing succeeds because these attacks leverage both psychology and technology.


On the psychological side, QR codes feel harmless to most people. We're conditioned to scan without thinking. Technologically, QR codes are simple for scammers to generate, allowing phishing sites and malware to be embedded effortlessly.


The ubiquity of QR codes also provides billions of targets. Attacks happen everywhere codes appear - emails, ads, social media posts, and physical locations. With QR codes growing in usage, the attack surface only expands.


Ultimately, combining technological and psychological techniques makes QR phishing alarmingly effective. People underestimate the danger while scammers exploit the system.


How can you spot QR code attacks?


QR codes in emails require extra scrutiny. Here are tips to detect phishing attempts without scanning the code:


  • Inspect the sender's email address. Does it match the company it claims to be from? Watch for slight misspellings.
  • Check for poor grammar, spelling errors, or unfamiliar tones in the email text. This signals a likely phishing attempt.
  • Be suspicious of emails with a sense of urgency, threats, or other psychological manipulation to entice scanning.
  • Mouseover links without clicking to compare destinations to text. Mismatches often reveal malicious URLs.
  • Verify the email formatting. Low-quality images or layouts may indicate a phishing attempt.
  • Contact the sender directly if you suspect an email is fraudulent. Don't use the contact info in the questionable email.

Of course, if you suspect an email is a phishing attempt, you should always report it to your IT team.


The growing threat in 2024


The rise in QR code usage in phishing attacks has been astonishing, with 22% of all phishing attacks now including a QR code.


That number is not expected to fall in 2024, either.


With more businesses and individuals relying on QR codes for various transactions, the attack surface for cybercriminals broadens.


Awareness of this threat must be a top priority for organisations, as the potential for exploitation continues to rise.


Risks to organisations


The risks posed by QR code phishing are multifaceted - organisations may face data breaches, financial losses, and damage to their reputation.


Furthermore, compromised devices within the corporate network can serve as entry points for more extensive cyberattacks.


Educating employees about the potential dangers of QR code phishing is crucial in protecting your organisation's cybersecurity defences.


Protecting against QR code phishing


Mitigating the risks associated with QR code phishing involves a combination of awareness, education, and technology.


At Bob’s Business, we make it our mission to give organisations the knowledge they need to combat the latest cyber threats. That’s why we’re among the first phishing simulation providers to launch QR code phishing templates for our clients.


Learn about our phishing simulation training here.


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