Welcome!

Mobile IoT Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Janakiram MSV, Shelly Palmer, Laureen Fagan

Related Topics: Cloud Security, Mobile IoT, Microservices Expo

Cloud Security: Article

Quick Response, Quick Risk?

The risks presented by QR codes are really a new spin on well-established hacking tricks and exploits

Quick Response (QR) codes are intended to help direct users quickly and easily to information about products and services, but they are also starting to be used for social engineering exploits. This article looks at the emergence of QR scan scams and the rising concern for users today.

You don't have to look far these days to spot a QR code. From their humble beginnings in labelling and tracking parts used in vehicle manufacturing, these blocky little barcodes-on-steroids are being placed everywhere from product packaging, to posters and billboards, to magazines and newspapers.

QR codes are a jumping-off point from the offline to the online world. By simply scanning the code with your smartphone, people can quickly access the digital content triggered by the code - making them a marketer's dream because they make it easy to direct users toward information and services. What's more, they still retain a certain cool and curiosity factor, with users enjoying the point-and-browse convenience they offer.

However, this also makes them useful to hackers as a social engineering tool, to exploit user interest and trust and direct them to malicious websites or malware. While the concept of ‘drive-by downloads' is already well established as a stealthy tactic for stealing user data when web browsing, QR codes offer a new method for manipulating mobile users in a similar way.

A Matter of Trust
The issue with QR codes is that it forces users to trust the integrity of the code's provider and assume that the destination it leads to is legitimate. This is almost impossible for individuals to gauge because the QR code actually conceals the site and content it leads to. While social engineering exploits have evolved from the email worms of the early 2000s, they still rely on human curiosity to see what might happen when users click on an attachment or a QR code is scanned, which often leads to security problems.

Furthermore, QR code-scanning applications running on smartphones can provide a direct link to other smartphone capabilities, such as email, SMS, location-based services and application installations - further extending the potential risks to mobile devices. Let's look at how a potential QR code-based exploit could be mounted, and then at how to defend against it.

Code Read
The first step in mounting a QR exploit is to distribute the code, to get it in front of potential victims. This could happen by embedding the QR code in an email - making it an elaborate phishing exploit - or by distributing plausible-looking physical documents with QR code on them, for example flyers at a trade show, or even stickers applied to genuine advertisement billboards.

Once the QR code is distributed, the attacker has a multitude of scam options to choose from. At a basic level, the code could simply redirect users to fake websites for phishing purposes - such as a fake online store or a payment site.

More sophisticated exploits involve hackers using the QR code to direct users to websites that will ‘jailbreak' their mobile device - that is, allow root access to the device's operating system and install malware. This is essentially a drive-by download attack on the device, enabling additional software or applications, such as key loggers and GPS trackers, to be installed without the user's knowledge or permission.

Targeting the Mobile Wallet
Perhaps the biggest potential risk to users is the rising use of mobile banking and payments via smartphones. With the ability of QR codes to jailbreak devices and tap into applications, this could give hackers virtual pick-pocket access to mobile wallets, especially as QR-based payment solutions already exist and are in use. While the uptake of these is currently small, it will grow as public acceptance of QR codes increases.

What can organizations and individual users do to mitigate the risks from QR codes? The most important precaution is being able to establish exactly what link or resource the QR code is going to launch when it's scanned. Some (not all) QR scanning applications give this visibility and - critically - ask the user to confirm if they wish to take the action. This gives users the opportunity to assess the link's validity before the code is activated.

For corporate smartphones, consider deploying data encryption so that even if a malicious QR code manages to install a Trojan on the device, sensitive data is still protected and not immediately accessible or usable by hackers.

In conclusion, the risks presented by QR codes are really a new spin on well-established hacking tricks and exploits. The security basics still apply - be cautious about what you scan, and use data encryption where possible. Or put simply: look before the QR leap.

More Stories By Tomer Teller

Tomer Teller is security evangelist at Check Point. During his six years at Check Point, he has been working as a researcher and developer on variety of large scale projects, as well as a speaker at multiple IT security conferences and lecturer at Check Point headquarters.

Specialized in both high-level and low level software engineering, Teller devotes his free time to various projects and original security research. He holds a BS in computer science and is a proud owner of a patent in the field of browser exploitation.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
"DX encompasses the continuing technology revolution, and is addressing society's most important issues throughout the entire $78 trillion 21st-century global economy," said Roger Strukhoff, Conference Chair. "DX World Expo has organized these issues along 10 tracks with more than 150 of the world's top speakers coming to Istanbul to help change the world."
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Karthik Lalithraj, a Principal Solutions Architect at Kinetica, discussed how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich...
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, will examine the regulations and provide insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence...
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
In the enterprise today, connected IoT devices are everywhere – both inside and outside corporate environments. The need to identify, manage, control and secure a quickly growing web of connections and outside devices is making the already challenging task of security even more important, and onerous. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Rich Boyer, CISO and Chief Architect for Security at NTT i3, discussed new ways of thinking and the approaches needed to address the emerging challenges of security i...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
What sort of WebRTC based applications can we expect to see over the next year and beyond? One way to predict development trends is to see what sorts of applications startups are building. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arin Sime, founder of WebRTC.ventures, discussed the current and likely future trends in WebRTC application development based on real requests for custom applications from real customers, as well as other public sources of information.
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.