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The Rise of Malicious QR Codes in Phishing Emails

Munds Park RV Resor

October 27, 2023

by Jose Sandoval

New phishing email techniques

In an increasingly digital interconnected era, phishing attacks have become a persistent threat to individuals and organizations. Cybercriminals continually evolve their tactics in an attempt to stay one step ahead of security measures. One emerging trend in phishing attacks is using malicious QR codes in phishing emails, adding a new layer of deception to an already common issue.

QR codes, short for Quick Response codes, have become convenient for transferring information, links, or data via smartphones. However, malicious actors have recognized their potential as a tool for phishing attacks, capitalizing on recipients’ curiosity and exploiting the inherent trust associated with QR codes. This article will explore the rise of malicious QR codes in phishing emails, how they work, and ways to protect yourself from falling victim to this modern phishing scheme.

The rise of malicious QR Codes in phishing emails

Phishing emails have long been the preferred method of delivering malware, collecting sensitive information, or spreading malicious links. Cybercriminals have become increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to trick recipients. The inclusion of QR codes in phishing emails is a recent development that plays into the general trust people have in these seemingly harmless graphical symbols.

QR codes are inherently designed for ease of use and quick access, making them an attractive vehicle for attackers.

The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Email Delivery: Phishers send a seemingly legitimate email that may impersonate a trusted entity, such as a bank, online store, Microsoft, or government agency. The email contains a QR code as a link to a fraudulent website.
  2. Curiosity and Trust: When recipients see the QR code, their curiosity is piqued. QR codes are associated with efficiency and trust, often leading individuals to assume the link is safe.
  3. Scanning the QR Code: Recipients scan the QR code using their smartphone cameras. This action redirects them to a malicious website, where personal information may be solicited, malware may be downloaded, or further instructions may be provided.
  4. Data Theft or Malware Infection: Once on the fake website, victims are prompted to enter sensitive information or unknowingly expose their devices to malware, which can lead to data theft, financial loss, or other detrimental consequences.

Ways to protect yourself from malicious QR Codes in phishing emails

Protecting yourself from falling victim to phishing emails with malicious QR codes requires vigilance and adherence to best practices. Here are some crucial steps to follow:

  1. Enable 2FA: Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a second form of verification before granting access.
  2. Verify the Sender: Always verify the sender of the email before taking any action. Double-check the sender’s email address and domain. Look for suspicious signs, such as misspelled names or unusual email addresses.
  3. Scrutinize the Email: Carefully examine the email content, including grammar, spelling errors, and the overall tone. Be cautious of any unsolicited emails requesting personal, financial information, or account security.
  4. Avoid Scanning QR Codes: If you receive an email with a QR code and are unsure of its origin, avoid scanning it. Instead, contact your IT staff or the supposed sender directly through their official website, or phone number, to confirm the legitimacy of the communication.
  5. Keep Software Updated: Ensure your smartphone and computer have up-to-date antivirus and system updates. Regularly update your operating system and applications to patch vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit.
  6. Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the latest phishing trends and common tactics used by cybercriminals. Knowledge is one of the best tools for defense.

Further below are some examples of QR Codes in Phishing Emails.

The rise of malicious QR codes in phishing emails is a troubling development in the ever-evolving world of cyber threats. With a mix of curiosity and trust, recipients are being lured into dangerous situations. To stay safe, individuals and organizations must exercise caution, remain vigilant, and follow best practices for email and online security. Doing so can reduce the success rate of phishing attacks and make the digital world a safer place for everyone.

Investing in cybersecurity with NTS is easy

NTS provides comprehensive cybersecurity services as part of our managed services. Our customers receive a proactive, effective solution through high-quality tools employed by a team of experts with a broad and deep skill set.  We provide foundational systems support that significantly maximizes network performance and uptime, while reducing risk of cyberattacks and malicious actions, allowing our clients to focus on their operations and customers. Schedule a consultation with NTS today!


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