QR code risks

Should We Talk About the QR Code Security Risk? 

It’s time to talk about the blooming QR code security risk. 

QR code usage has boomed over the last half-decade – streamlining access to content, payment authorization, and even quick service food. As always, with a rapid growth in userbase comes a similar growth in risk. 

Cybercriminals capitalize on QR codes to perpetrate sophisticated scams, exploiting unsuspecting individuals through a tactic known as quishing. This deceptive method entails luring recipients into scanning malicious QR codes, redirecting them to fraudulent websites designed to steal sensitive data. Unlike traditional phishing techniques, quishing evades conventional security measures, posing a significant risk to users. 

As the lines between personal and professional devices blur, safeguarding our team against potential (and constantly evolving) threats are the only way to prevent cyberattacks threatening to decimate the org. 

Decoupled personal and professional devices set the stage for threats 

Quishing, much like other phishing scams, aims to infiltrate an individual device with malware, subsequently extracting sensitive personal and financial data. At the individual level, consequences are minimal, just a bit of compromised device security, identity theft, and financial fraud. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations started using QR codes for low-contact transactions, which led to an increase in quishing attacks. Coupled with the rise of remote work, employees of all orgs are switching between personal and professional across the day using various devices, networks, and varying levels of security frameworks. Cybersecurity is extending beyond traditional workplace devices, and hackers are targeting employees through malicious QR codes or links, which can install malware on corporate and/or personal devices, leading to compromised personal and financial information. 

At the corporate level, quishing can get truly devastating. Cybercriminals often target large organizations to gain access to sensitive corporate data, leading to severe consequences such as data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage. These attacks can compromise confidential information, disrupt operations, and erode customer trust, ultimately impacting the company’s bottom line and long-term sustainability. 

 Quishing is a significant concern because it is difficult for users to distinguish between legitimate and malicious QR codes. These codes can bypass security systems because they appear as a single image, without any suspicious text. 

QR code security risk: checking the numbers 

In September 2023, Finnish cybersecurity training platform Hoxhunt conducted a comprehensive quishing benchmark test, shedding light on the just how frequent these risks are. 

The study, encompassing nearly 600,000 employees from 35+ organizations spanning nine industries and 125 countries, yielded alarming insights. If you haven’t been tipped to the real risks – over one-third of recipients successfully identified and reported a simulated QR code phishing attack. Shockingly, over half of the participants failed to recognize the threat, with another 5 percent of participants falling victim to a simulated attack. 

These attacks can cause significant financial losses, with large organizations suffering more than US$15 million with large organizations suffering more than US$15 million in phishing-related losses, as per the Ponemon Institute’s 2021 study. This translates to approximately US$1,500 per employee. can be dire, ranging from compromised device security to identity theft and financial fraud. 

The Hoxhunt study only further emphasizing the need for individuals and organizations to strengthen their defences against emerging risks.  

Strategies to safeguard against QR code scams 

First, as with all things digital, stay vigilant. Be careful when scanning QR codes, especially if they seem suspicious or originate from unknown sources. Some tips for you and your team across all devices:. 

Use QR Code Scanners with Built-in Security Features: Choose QR code scanners that offer built-in security features like URL validation and malware detection. These scanners can help identify potentially harmful QR codes and prevent you from falling victim to scams.  

Norton Snap QR code reader offers a safety check before you visit a website. Moreover, Norton cross-checks the code against a database of malicious links to confirm whether it’s a known bad site or not. 

Check the URL and Content: Look out for any misspellings, unusual language, or blurry images, as these could be warning signs of a phishing attempt. Additionally, be cautious of websites that create a sense of urgency or pressure you to take immediate action, such as providing personal information or making urgent payments. 

Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the latest QR code scam tactics and trends. Be cautious when a QR code asks for sensitive details like passwords, credit card information, or personal data. Legitimate companies usually do not request this information through QR codes. It’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid sharing your personal information with unknown sources or unverified websites. 

Keep Your Software Updated: It is essential to keep your smartphone’s operating system and QR code scanning applications up to date by installing the latest security patches and features. This can help protect your device from potential vulnerabilities that cybercriminals might exploit to access your sensitive information. Another way to add an extra layer of security to your smartphone and other online accounts is to enable two-factor authentication. With this feature, you will need to provide an additional authentication factor like a code or a fingerprint, which makes it much harder for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to your accounts. 


Although QR codes offer undeniable convenience in various aspects of modern life, their widespread usage also opens the door to potential risks such as scams and phishing attacks. When using personal and professional devices (they are so intertwined these days, anyway) remain vigilant and implement proactive security measures. 

Nidhi Singh