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Understanding Quishing: The Rise of QR Code Phishing Attacks

What is QR code phishing? How does quishing work? What are real quishing examples? What are the quishing statistics in 2024? Read our blog post and get answers to these questions to learn about Quishing attacks.

Understanding Quishing: The Rise of QR Code Phishing Attacks

When we search the topic of QR code attacks, lots of people are curious and ask things like, "What is Quishing?" or "What exactly are QR code phishing attacks?" and "How does Quishing work?" This blog post is exacly here to clear up all those questions about quishing attacks.

This blog post will explore the Quishing attack lifecycle and reveal real-life QR code phishing examples to illustrate their impact. It’ll also show the latest statistics on quishing and how to prevent it.

What is Quishing?

Quishing is a social engineering attack that uses QR codes instead of links in emails. In Quishing, hackers trick you into providing sensitive data or downloading malware onto your computer. Quishing is derived from combining "QR codes" and "phishing."

QR codes are square-shaped barcodes that have become increasingly prevalent. They offer a quick and easy way to access information. They help us make payments or even view restaurant menus. Their simplicity and widespread adoption have made them an attractive tool for various legitimate purposes.

The danger with Quishing is that, unlike traditional URLs, QR codes cannot be "read" or "previewed" by the human eye. This adds a layer of deception, making it easier for attackers to trick individuals into scanning malicious codes. As a result, Quishing has emerged as a significant for cybercriminals.

The Popularity of QR Codes

QR codes’ rapid scan-and-go nature has made them a preferred choice for businesses and consumers. This emphasizes convenience and efficiency.

This blind trust makes our devices susceptible to potential threats. A malicious QR code, camouflaged in its innocent appearance, can easily redirect a user to a phishing site. This can initiate unwanted downloads or even compromise personal data. While QR codes have undeniably made certain tasks quicker and more user-friendly, they also present a new avenue for cybercriminals to exploit.

As the popularity and reliance on QR codes continue to grow, it becomes important for users to approach them with caution. Recognizing the dual nature of QR codes – as tools of both utility and potential vulnerability – is the first step in securing your data.

Why is Quishing on the Rise?

Here's a closer look at why this attack is gaining traction:

QR phishing vs Phishing?

Quishing relies on deceptive links in emails or messages, while Quishing uses QR codes, which many perceive as harmless. This perception allows cybercriminals to cloak their malicious intent, making Quishing more enticing effectively.

Bypassing Secure Email Gateways

QR codes can sometimes evade traditional security measures designed to detect and block malicious URLs or suspicious email attachments. Since the malicious URL is embedded within the QR code and not directly visible, it can bypass some security filters. This evasion capability gives Quishing a distinct edge.

Rapid Adoption of QR Codes

The global pandemic accelerated the adoption of QR codes as businesses sought contactless solutions. QR codes have become ubiquitous, from digital restaurant menus to contactless payments. This widespread acceptance and trust in QR codes provide a larger pool of potential victims for cybercriminals.

Anonymity and Ease of Creation

Creating a malicious QR code is relatively simple and requires minimal technical expertise. QR codes can be easily disseminated across various platforms, from emails to physical posters. Their ability to be scanned and actioned upon without leaving a digital trail, like clicking a link, offers a level of anonymity to attackers.

The Versatility of Attacks

Quishing isn't limited to redirecting users to phishing sites. The versatility of QR codes means they can be used for various malicious activities, from initiating malware downloads to extracting data directly from devices.

How Quishing Works?

Quishing is about tricking people, which is common in many online attacks. What makes Quishing different is how it uses QR codes.

Quishing emails pretend to be from companies we trust, like famous brands, banks, or services. They might say there's an "urgent" update or a "special" deal just for you. But, instead of a link to click, they have a QR code and ask you to scan it to find out more.

Create a QR Code Phishing

A Quishing attack starts when bad guys make a fake QR code. They make it look like the real ones we see in ads for paying or getting info. But this QR code is tricky.

It takes you to a fake website that looks just like a real company's site, a big-name brand, a bank, or a service we all use. They do this to trick us into thinking everything's okay and safe.

Send Malicious QR Code

The next move is to put these fake QR codes for people to scan. This could be out in the open, like on posters, flyers, or online, through emails and social media. Sometimes, the attackers might even take over real ads, swapping the good QR codes with their harmful ones.

They randomly pick these spots to ensure many people see and scan the QR codes without suspecting anything.

Check out the example of a Quishing email below:

A sample QR Code Phishing Attack Targeting LinkedIn Users.png
Picture 1. A sample QR Code Phishing Attack Targeting LinkedIn Users

Launch a QR Phishing Attack

When people scan a bad QR code with their phones, they end up on a fake website. This site asks them to enter important information like usernames, personal details, or bank info. Users who think the site is real might give away their data without knowing.

The hackers can then use this info for bad stuff, like stealing identities, taking money, or launching more attacks. For instance, scanning the fake QR codes mentioned before sends users to a phony LinkedIn page.

QR Code Phishing Redirect Users to a Fake LinkedIn Page.png
Picture 2. QR Code Phishing Redirect Users to a Fake LinkedIn Page

The Role of QR Codes in Quishing is Multifaceted

Redirection to Phishing Sites

Just as a malicious link would redirect a user to a fake website, a malicious QR code can do the same. Once on the counterfeit site, users might be prompted to enter personal or financial information, which goes straight to the cybercriminals.

Initiating Malware Downloads

Some Quishing codes, when scanned, can trigger automatic downloads. This could be malware, ransomware, or any other malicious software to compromise the user's device or data.

Data Extraction

Advanced Quishing attacks might use QR codes to extract data directly from the device upon scanning without the user's knowledge.

Real-life Examples of Quishing Attacks

Let’s explore the real example of QR code phishing attacks that occurred in the past years.

QR Codes Attacks Hit A Major U.S. Energy Company

In May 2023, a big QR code phishing attack hit a major U.S. energy company. This attack used harmful QR codes in PNG images or links that looked like they were for Microsoft Bing, Salesforce, and CloudFlare's Web3 services.

Microsoft’s fake emails told people to update their security or turn on two-factor (2FA) or multi-factor authentication (MFA) within 72 hours. When scanned, these emails had a QR code that took victims to a fake Microsoft login page. Anyone who entered their Microsoft info there accidentally gave their details to the hackers.

Some people were tricked into scanning these QR codes and giving away their Microsoft login details. This led to 100 Microsoft accounts being hacked, which could let attackers access private data or do more harm.

This phishing campaign didn't stop there. It targeted companies in finance, insurance, manufacturing, and tech. The attackers' method was clever, using QR codes in PNG images or as links to well-known services to trick people.

In May 2023, a significant QR code phishing campaign targeted a major U.S.jpg
Picture 3: In May 2023, a significant QR code phishing campaign targeted a major U.S.

The scam emails looked like they were from Microsoft. They told people they needed to update their security or turn on extra security steps like 2FA or MFA within 72 hours. There was a QR code in the email to make it seem easy. But, when someone scanned the QR code, it took them to a fake Microsoft page. The bad guys immediately got it if they put in their login info.

Sadly, this trick worked well. Lots of people scanned the QR code and put in their Microsoft details. The hackers got into 100 Microsoft accounts. They could use these accounts to get private info or plan bigger attacks.

Quishing Attack That Targets FedEx Users

Recently, a tricky scam involving QR codes and pretending to be from FedEx was detected by Keepnet Labs’ Incident Response Platform. This scam was trying to trick people into scanning a QR code that looked like it was from FedEx. The goal was to get people to visit fake websites that could steal personal and money-related information. This attack was targeting some Keepnet customers.

In January 2024, QR Code Phishing Scams Targeted Some of Keepnet’s Customers.jpeg
Picture 4: In January 2024, QR Code Phishing Scams Targeted Some of Keepnet’s Customers

Instagram Users Targeted by QR Code Phishing Scam Detected by Keepnet

A recent phishing scam, cleverly disguised as a communication from Instagram, has been targeting users with a deceptive QR code. This scam was designed to trick individuals into scanning a QR code that purported to offer exclusive features or important updates from Instagram. However, the real intent was far more malicious, aiming to direct unsuspecting users to fraudulent websites where their personal and financial information could be compromised.

Keepnet has identified this scam as targeting its customers, demonstrating the sophisticated methods employed by cybercriminals to exploit social media platforms' popularity. By masquerading as Instagram, the attackers hoped to leverage the trust and widespread use of the platform to their advantage.

On January 19 2024 hackers masquerading as Instagram targeted some people using QR code phishing.jpeg
Picture 5: On January 19, 2024, hackers masquerading as Instagram targeted some people using QR code phishing.

Quishing Attack Targets Starbucks Customers

A sophisticated quishing attack targeting Starbucks customers has recently come to light. This attack exploited the brand's widespread popularity and trust among coffee enthusiasts. This malicious campaign involved the distribution of QR codes, falsely claiming to offer complimentary beverages from Starbucks. When scanned, these QR codes redirected unsuspecting users to phishing websites designed to harvest personal and financial information.

The attack was notably aimed at extracting sensitive data such as login credentials, credit card information, and personal identification details under the guise of verifying user accounts or updating membership status. The scammers' use of QR codes leveraged a modern convenience to bypass traditional cybersecurity defenses, making the phishing attempt more difficult to detect at first glance.

On 15 February 2024, hackers used QR code phishing emails to attack some companies.jpeg
Picture 6: On 15 February 2024, hackers used QR code phishing emails to attack some companies

Police Officer Fell For QR Codes Attack

WSVN 7News shared the story of a police officer who found thousands of dollars stolen from his bank account after scanning a QR code displayed on his TV. This incident illustrates how scammers can hack into personal devices through QR codes, accessing banking information and other sensitive data. It's a stark reminder of the personal and financial devastation that quishing scams can cause.

QR Code Phishing Attack in the UK

In a recent alarming incident reported by ITV News, a victim lost a staggering £13,000 to a QR code scam, highlighting the emerging threat of "quishing" (QR-code phishing).

The scam unfolded when an unsuspecting individual scanned a QR code placed on a station parking machine.

Instead of facilitating a legitimate transaction, the code directed the victim to a website that clandestinely harvested their personal and financial details, resulting in a significant financial loss. This case is a stark reminder of the sophistication and audacity of modern cybercriminals who exploit everyday technologies to execute their scams.

The Dangers of QR Code Phishing Attacks

Quishing presents a unique set of threats in cyberattacks. By leveraging the widespread use and trust in QR codes, attackers can execute various malicious activities. Here are some of the primary dangers associated with Quishing:

Malware Downloads

One of the most immediate threats of Quishing is the potential for malware downloads. When a Quishing code is scanned, one can be automatically directed to download harmful software onto the user's device. This malware can range from spyware that monitors user activity to ransomware that locks out users from their data until a ransom is paid.

Phishing Sites and Data Theft

Quishing codes often redirect users to counterfeit websites designed to mimic legitimate ones. Unsuspecting users might enter their personal and financial information on these sites, thinking they are on a trusted platform. This data is then captured by cybercriminals, who can use it for various illicit activities, from unauthorized transactions to identity theft.

Compromised Geolocation Data

Some advanced Quishing attacks can access the geolocation data of a user's device upon scanning a malicious QR code. With this information, attackers can track the user's physical movements, leading to potential physical threats or targeted attacks based on the user's location.

Loss of Personal Data and Financial Fraud

The endgame of most Quishing attacks is to gain unauthorized access to personal and financial data. Once attackers have this information, they can commit financial fraud, make unauthorized purchases, or even sell the data on the dark web. The repercussions of such breaches can be long-lasting, with victims potentially facing financial losses, damaged credit scores, and the arduous task of reclaiming their digital identities.

QR codes offer convenience and efficiency; they also open the door to a myriad of cyber threats when misused. The dangers of Quishing highlight the importance of cautiously approaching QR codes and being vigilant about the sources from which they originate.

Statistics Highlighting the Rise of Quishing in 2024

The increasing reliance on QR codes has inadvertently paved the way for a surge in Quishing attacks. Some alarming QR code phishing statistics in 2024 underscore the growing threat:

  • Mobile Phishing Exposure: According to the Global State of Mobile Phishing Report, over 50% of personal devices used by a company's employees are exposed to phishing every quarter.
  • Quishing Growth: Research indicates that QR code phishing, commonly called Quishing, witnessed a staggering seven-fold growth in Q2 of 2022.
  • Targeted Industries: The most targeted sectors for Quishing attacks include insurance, legal, financial, and healthcare. These industries are particularly attractive to cybercriminals due to the sensitive and valuable nature of their data.
  • Executives are in Danger: According to the 2024 Email Threat Report by Abnormal Security, People who run companies, like CEOs, are 42 times more likely to be tricked by these QR code scams than other workers. That's because they have access to lots of important company info.
  • Important Managers Also at Risk: Other big roles in companies, like vice presidents, are five times more likely to be targeted than regular employees, according to the 2024 Email Threat Report. Hackers think they can get valuable stuff by tricking them, too.
  • Stealing Login Info: About 89.3% of the time, these QR code tricks try to get your usernames and passwords. That's a lot!
  • Fake Security Alerts: In 27% of attacks, scammers send fake messages about checking your security settings, like for two-factor authentication.
  • Shared Document Tricks: Around 21% of these scams pretend to share a document with you, hoping you'll click and give away your info.
  • Construction and Engineering: If you work in building or designing things, watch out! You're up to 19.2 times more likely to be targeted by these scams.
  • Professional Services: Jobs that offer expert advice or services are 18.5 times more likely to get hit by these attacks.
  • Small Companies: If your company isn't very big, like 500 people or less, you're 19 times more at risk of facing these quishing attacks.
  • On the Rise: Experts noticed these QR code scams jumped by 50% in just a few months. That's a big increase!
  • QR Codes Everywhere: In October 2023, 22% of all phishing scams used QR codes. That means it's becoming a popular trick.
  • Why It's a Big Deal: Hackers like QR codes because they can sneak past some security measures that are supposed to protect us. Plus, they know we're getting used to scanning QR codes for all sorts of things, so we might not think twice before scanning a suspicious one.

Protecting Yourself from Quishing

As Quishing gains traction among cybercriminals, we must arm ourselves with knowledge and best practices to avoid falling prey to these attacks.

Here are some tips and protective measures to ensure safety:

  • Use Quishing Defense Solutions: Proactive defense is important in the fight against Quishing. Leveraging specialized defense solutions can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these attacks. Keepnet Labs offers a state-of-the-art Quishing Simulator designed specifically to combat the threat of QR code phishing.This tool allows organizations to simulate Quishing attacks in a controlled environment, educating employees about the dangers and teaching them how to recognize and respond to genuine threats. By undergoing these simulations, employees become more adept at spotting malicious QR codes, reducing the risk of human error.
  • Verify the Source: Before scanning any QR code, ensure it comes from a trusted source. If you receive a QR code via email, verify the sender's authenticity by checking their email address and cross-referencing any information provided.
  • Be Cautious with Unfamiliar QR Codes: Just as you would be wary of clicking on unfamiliar links, approach QR codes with the same level of caution. If a QR code appears out of context or suspicious, it's best to avoid scanning it.
  • Use Legitimate QR Code Scanners: Not all QR code scanning apps are created equal. Some might not have the necessary security features to detect malicious URLs. Opt for reputable QR code scanners that offer security features, such as URL previews or malicious link detection.
  • Preview the URL: Some QR code scanners allow users to preview the URL before accessing the site. This feature can help identify if the link leads to a reputable website or a potential phishing site.
  • Keep Software Updated: Ensure your mobile device's operating system and apps are up-to-date. Regular updates often include security patches that can protect against known vulnerabilities exploited by Quishing attacks.
  • Educate and Train: Knowledge is power. Regularly educate yourself and those around you about the latest cyber threats, including Quishing. Training sessions or workshops can be beneficial for organizations to raise awareness among employees.
  • Implement Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Even if cybercriminals manage to steal login credentials through Quishing, having MFA in place can add a layer of security, making unauthorized access more challenging.
  • Report Suspicious QR Codes: If you encounter a QR code that seems malicious or leads to a suspicious website, report it to your organization's IT department or the appropriate authorities. This can help prevent others from becoming victims.
  • Treat QR Codes Like Links: A QR code is another way to access a link. Adopt the same cautious approach you would with unfamiliar or suspicious links.

Please watch this video from YouTube and learn more about quishing and how to protect yourself.

Increase Your Employee's Awareness Using Quishing Simulator

With the right tools and awareness, individuals and organizations can effectively combat these threats. Keepnet Labs offers a comprehensive Human Risk Management Platform to address human-based cyber risks. With nine different products, Keepnet Labs empowers users to fortify their defenses against phishing attacks.

Keepnet has a product called the Quishing Simulator. Companies can safely experience what it's like to be hit by a phishing attack. This way, workers learn about the risks and how to spot and deal with real dangers. By practicing with fake attacks, everyone gets better at stopping real ones, which means fewer mistakes that could lead to big problems.

How the Quishing Simulator Works

Keepnet Labs' Quishing Simulator is a cutting-edge tool designed to help organizations understand and mitigate the risks associated with QR code phishing. By simulating real-world Quishing attacks in a controlled environment, it educates employees and tests an organization's defenses. Here's a structured breakdown of how the Quishing Simulator operates:

Campaign Creation

  • Objective Setting: Define the goals of the simulation, whether it's to test the organization, educate employees, or both.
  • Target Selection: Choose the departments or specific employees to be part of the simulation. This can be random or based on previous vulnerability assessments.
  • QR Code Design: Customize the appearance and content of the malicious QR codes to mimic real-world scenarios.


  • Distribution: Decide how the QR codes will be presented to the targets. This could be via email, physical posters, or other mediums.
  • Tracking Mechanism: Embedded trackers within the QR codes to monitor who scans them and how they interact with the subsequent content.

Employee Interaction

  • Real-time Monitoring: The Quishing Simulator tracks employees' actions in real time as they interact with the QR codes.
  • Immediate Feedback: Employees who fall for the simulated attack can receive instant feedback, educating them about the mistake and their insecure behavior and offering guidance on the correct course of action.

Analysis & Reporting

  • Data Collection: Post-simulation, gather data on the number of scans, successful "attacks," and other relevant metrics.
  • Insightful Reports: Generate detailed reports highlighting vulnerabilities, employee responses, and areas that require further training or attention.
  • Trend Analysis: Over multiple simulations, identify patterns in employee behavior and the effectiveness of ongoing training programs.

Continuous Learning

  • Training Integration: Based on the results, integrate findings into broader cybersecurity training programs.
  • Refinement: Adjust future simulations based on past results to continually challenge and educate employees.
  • Feedback Loop: Encourage employees to provide feedback on the simulation, ensuring it remains relevant and effective.

The Quishing Simulator by Keepnet Labs offers a comprehensive approach to understanding and mitigating the risks of QR code phishing. By simulating, analyzing, and refining, organizations can stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and ensure their employees are well-equipped to handle such threats.

Use of QR Code Phishing Awareness Training Simulation Product.png
Picture 7: Use of QR Code Phishing Awareness Training & Simulation Product

But Quishing is just one of the many threats. Keepnet Labs also offers solutions like the Vishing Simulator and Smishing Simulator , which empower employees against voice phishing and SMS phishing, respectively. Combined with their continuous individualized training modules, these products have proven significantly more effective than traditional annual awareness campaigns.

Watch our video from YouTube and see how we can protect you against phishing attacks, including callback phishing.



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Frequently Asked Questions

Can QR Codes Be Used for Phishing?

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Yes, QR codes can be used for phishing, known as "Quishing," where cybercriminals embed malicious links in QR codes to redirect users to phishing websites or initiate unauthorized downloads.

What is QR Code Phishing Called?

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QR code phishing is commonly referred to as "Quishing," a term that combines "QR codes" and "phishing" to describe the use of QR codes in conducting phishing attacks.

How Can QR Codes Be Misused?

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QR codes can be misused by directing users to phishing sites, initiating malware downloads, and extracting sensitive data from their devices, exploiting their ability to conceal URLs.

What is a QR Code Attack?

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A QR code attack occurs when a QR code is used to conduct malicious activities, such as leading users to phishing websites, downloading malware, or stealing personal information.

Can a QR Code Steal My Data?

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Yes, a malicious QR code can potentially steal data by leading to phishing sites where users might enter sensitive information or by initiating background processes to extract data from the device.

What is the Cybersecurity Risk with QR Codes?

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The primary cybersecurity risk with QR codes is their ability to mask malicious URLs, making it easier for cybercriminals to trick users into visiting harmful sites or downloading malware.

Can a QR Code Get You Hacked?

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Scanning a malicious QR code can lead to hacking, either by redirecting to a phishing site where credentials are compromised or downloading malware that gives hackers access to your device.

What is the Safest QR Code?

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The safest QR codes are those generated from reputable sources and platforms, ensuring the QR code's origin is trustworthy and using secure QR code generators and scanners with built-in security features.

How Does Phishing Work?

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Phishing involves tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information or downloading malware, often through deceptive emails, messages, and increasingly, through QR codes.

Are QR Codes Safer Than Barcodes?

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QR codes and barcodes have different security levels; QR codes are more versatile but more susceptible to misuse, such as in phishing attacks, while barcodes are less prone to such risks but limited in functionality.

QR Code Phishing on iPhone: How to Stay Safe?

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To stay safe from QR code phishing on iPhone, use the built-in camera app for scanning, which has security features to detect suspicious links, and be cautious of QR codes from unknown sources.

What Steps Should Individuals Take to Protect Themselves from QR Code Phishing Scams?

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Individuals should verify the source of QR codes, use scanners with security features like URL preview, update device software regularly, and implement multi-factor authentication for added security.

How Can Businesses Effectively Combat QR Code Phishing Threats?

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Businesses can combat QR code phishing by educating employees, using advanced security software, conducting regular security audits, and employing tools like Quishing simulators for training.

What Are the Latest Trends in QR Code Phishing Scams, and How Can One Stay Updated?

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The latest trends include sophisticated embedding of malicious links and exploiting current events. Staying updated involves following cybersecurity news, subscribing to security bulletins, and participating in forums and workshops.

Can QR Code Phishing Lead to Identity Theft, and What Are the Implications?

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Yes, QR code phishing can lead to identity theft by tricking users into entering personal information on fake websites, leading to financial loss, credit score damage, and the complex process of restoring one's digital identity.

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