Viruses & Malware Between Points Q & R

Written by Michael Whittington

This week’s band practice didn’t go as planned. Actually it didn’t go at all because everyone except me is sick. I always hated that as a kid. Every year there would be one day where half your class was out with some bug, but I was one of the ones who went to school. The teacher wouldn’t assign any homework because so many kids were missing. Of course if I ever missed a day I’d have to do four extra hours of homework. Speaking of being sick, do you ever get sick of my mobile marketing blog introductions having nothing to do with the topic and being essentially a rant about some childhood displeasure?

Anyway, I’m healthy right now and instead of my friends who could give me their virus, I’m chilling here at my computer with some QR codes which can’t. Well…maybe I’m speaking too fast. If you do any digging on the subject you can find some horror story about money or personal information being stolen all thanks to one of those no good, dirty, rotten QR codes. Are they all bogus claims from antivirus companies looking for you to give them money to beef up your password security? No. You can get a virus on your phone from scanning a QR code. Don’t stop reading because that is only the A or B answer. I cannot stress this enough so I’m going to write it on a separate line in bold and italics with my caps lock rolling pedal to the floor.

A QR CODE CANNOT CONTAIN A VIRUS

It may seem contradictory, but there is a subtle difference between my two statements. If scanning a QR code is step one, getting a virus on your phone is like step four or five. Every step in between is all you're doing. The code itself is like text. It’s like the words on this page (do not misconstrue that, these words can’t give you a virus either). Online encryption embeds alphanumeric characters in every QR code. This data tells a reader where it should go. If I type www.qwiktag.com here it means nothing. However when put into a browser you can reach our homepage. Without the context, you have no Qwiktag. Without visiting the site within the QR code, you have no virus.

I feel it is unfair to say “I got a QR code virus,” or even “I got a virus from a QR code.” In actuality, you got the virus from the website that the QR code led you to. Assuming you have at least a reasonably modern QR code reader, it should display a URL before taking you there and ask you if you’re sure you want to connect. In order to get a virus, first you need to say yes to this message. Then, in most cases, the phone will try to download a virus file. You will likely be prompted to begin the download. If you have not intentionally permitted your phone to download a file and it does so anyway, cancel it right away. With this in mind, in order for a QR code to put a virus on your phone you must first allow it to go to a strange website, then allow it to download a file. It’s not the QR code’s fault – it’s yours. Plain and simple.

Generally speaking, if you scan a code from a Pepsi product you can trust the website. However, if you find a QR code on a telephone pole, especially one that is otherwise unmarked, it doesn’t seem likely that you should trust the site it brings you to. Think about it: would you accept an unopened can of Pepsi from a stranger? Maybe. Would you accept an unlabeled can of what a stranger says is Pepsi? No way! The trustworthiness of QR codes comes from knowing the supplier. I know I have written very enthusiastically about mobile media marketing and using QR codes for music promotion, but part of that is giving the potential fans some info: where is your code going to take them? Even with this in mind, people will still be skeptical, but establishing that trust is a debate for another day.

So what can you do if you want to be adventurous, but you don’t want a virus? There are many steps that can be taken but if you are interested in being exposed to mobile media marketing perhaps the most effective is installing a security app. Also, be sure to download any software updates released by your service provider. These often address gratuitous holes in your phone’s security including its password security. For additional tips, take a look at the mobile marketing blog site below. Don’t worry, it doesn’t contain viruses.

Protect Your Smartphone from Malware

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