QotW #26: Malicious QR Code and Mitigation

2012-05-04 by . 0 comments

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This week’s Question of the Week was asked by Purge back in February.  His concern has been echoed in various publications – the worry that scanning one of the common QR codes you see in magazine adverts and on billboards could cause something malicious to happen as most QR scanners on smartphones take you straight to the URL encoded in the QR image. This isn’t a malicious QR (unless you count linking to a particular genre of music malicious) but how would you know?

logicalscope pointed out that a QR code was simply an encoding, so anything you could put in a URL could be encoded in a QR code. This could include XSS, SQL Injection or any other URL based attack.

handyjohn linked to a brief paper over on http://dl.packetstormsecurity.net/papers/attack/attaging.pdf outlining how QR codes could be used to direct victims to an attack website. An attacker could simply print QR code stickers and place them over existing ones on popular advertising hoardings to fool people into going to a site either with malicious code, or that is a spoof of the expected website which can ask for credentials from the victim.

roryalsop focused on the mitigation, which can be very straightforward: rather than send the browser directly to the website, just display the URL that is encoded in the QR image. This way the user can make a decision whether it is a malicious website or not (within the usual bounds for Internet users.) Admittedly logicalscope’s final point, that the QR decoder application could have a vulnerability is also true, but by adding in a user validation step we can at least improve security.

How about storing this one in your phone as a Security Stack Exchange business card – assuming people trust you enough to scan it.

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