JANUARY 2013: From ads to business cards to billboards, QR Codes — short for Quick Response Codes — are those little black-and-white designs you’ve seen popping up all over our communal pond. They’re 2D barcodes and, once decoded by a smartphone app called a QR Reader, they lead you someplace like a webpage or a coupon.
They can also lead you straight to a cyber crook’s lair! So beware!
The website you hop to for more information may really be operating the other way around and collecting information about you instead. Here’s how to keep your smartphone, passwords and identity safe.
Just like you wouldn’t click on a spammy email link or a bouncing ad that promises a free TV, you don’t want to click on just any website from a QR Code either. The linked page may contain malware that uploads automatically into your smartphone to steal personal information (like your contacts and calendar), access your accounts, request password resets, track your location, use your cell plan’s minutes, wait patiently until you connect with your computer so it can download into it identify what one of the two “its” is, or any number of other nasty cyber scams. Smart frogs take these progressively protective steps for happy, confident QR Code scanning:
1) Skip QR Codes that are on a sticker. Random QR codes stuck on telephone poles, street signs, bathrooms stalls or other possibly intriguing places might be a fun marketing campaign … or a not-so-fun identity theft scam. Keep your curiosity in check! And double-check to make sure the code you’re scanning isn’t really a sticker that’s stuck on top of a legitimate code.
2) Use a QR Reader with security features. There are lots and lots of QR reader apps to choose from. Choose one that verifies a website’s legitimacy and/or shows you a preview before automatically connecting you to the website. Norton Snap, available for both Android and iPhone, does both, plus it checks the code against a database of malicious links.
3) Make your phone even smarter with a security app. With apps like Lookout Security & Anti-Virus (Free or $2.99) for Android and iPhone, and Kaspersky Mobile Security ($14.99) for Android, your smartphone will be protected from malware, viruses, phishing sites, spyware, spam and more, no matter how the bad guys try to get in.