Surge in Malicious QR Codes Sparks FBI Alert

QR codes have become a go-to staple for contactless transactions of all sorts during the pandemic, and the FBI is warning cybercriminals are capitalizing on their lax security to steal data and money, and drop malware.

Menus, event ticket sales, quick site access — QR codes have become a common way to interact as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the smart little matrix bar codes are easily tampered with and can be used to direct victims to malicious sites, the FBI warned in an alert.

QR codes are the square, scannable codes familiar from applications like touchless menus at restaurants, and have gained in popularity over the pandemic as contactless interactions have become the norm. Simply navigating a smartphone camera over the image allows the device’s QR translator – built into most mobile phones – to “read” the code and open a corresponding website.

“A victim scans what they think to be a legitimate code, but the tampered code directs victims to a malicious site, which prompts them to enter login and financial information,” the FBI alert explained. “Access to this victim information gives the cybercriminal the ability to potentially steal funds through victim accounts.”

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