First rule of thumb: If the QR code is not from a known or reliable source, take caution before scanning.
QR codes are a revolutionary technology that provides businesses and individuals with new ways to interact. QR codes capitalize on smartphone technology and functionality to make interactive advertising possible in almost every location. However, like every technology, QR codes can be misused. QR codes and malware are often concerns of code users. You might worry that a new technology could leave your smartphone or computer vulnerable, but there is no reason to be concerned if you are as careful with QR codes as you are with emails and URLs.
When you receive a link in an email, you evaluate it before you click. You determine who the sender is and whether or not you trust that sender. The same is necessary with QR codes. Before you scan a QR code with your smartphone, consider which group or organization placed the code. If the code was placed by a business or charity with which you are familiar, it is most likely safe to scan it. QR codes from reputable businesses will ask for your consent before initiating any actions not advertised on the QR code itself.
The important thing to remember is that QR codes are just as safe to use as emails or web browsers. To increase the safety of your phone when using QR codes, download a QR Code scanner that has safeguards installed. Some code readers don’t automatically open a web browser to the URL embedded in the QR code. Instead, these readers display the URL for you to inspect before viewing. This is an opportunity to ensure that the domain name that belongs to the group posting the code is the same as the one listed in the URL. If you don’t feel comfortable after viewing the URL, you can protect your phone by simply declining to view the website.
You also must examine what the QR code appears on. Some unscrupulous groups will paste a fake, malicious QR code over a legitimate QR code. If the QR code is pasted or taped onto the page or sign, don’t scan it. If you think you have scanned a malicious QR code, call your cell phone carrier to avoid any unintended charges.
QRbot, available from the Apple AppStore and Android Market, is a QR Code scanner application for your smartphone that lets you view the target URL of QR codes before your phone automatically follows the link. Using antivirus software on your smartphone is also a good way to protect your investment and your piece of mind.