Using QR Codes and Short URLs: How to Know If They’re Safe

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Photo: shisu_ka (Shutterstock) – You should never trust anybody and always assume that every QR code you see is faulty. You may have noticed that QR codes have become a common sight at restaurants, government agencies, and shops throughout the United States. With today’s technology, we can swiftly and easily get the information we need while keeping our final destination hidden until we get there. QR codes and URL shorteners are convenient, but the security risks they pose outweigh their benefits. If a QR code or short URL is safe to use, how can you know for certain?

No one can be trusted

When it comes to short URLs and QR codes, always assume they’re not real. Bad QR code stickers may readily be put over a valid QR code at a restaurant, for example, since they are simple to manufacture. To avoid being tricked into visiting malicious websites, never click on a link that seems like it’s from your favorite brewery’s beer list. To be safe, presume that any QR code you see in a public location is a phony.

It’s also possible for anybody to send you a short URL in an e-mail or text message, and you may not know whether it’s safe to open it.

Take things to the manual level

When a company provides a convenient short URL or QR code, the safest course of action is to physically go to their website. Although this is counterproductive, it is the only method to prevent your phone or other device from being hacked.

To go to a website you can’t access via your browser, ask the firm to provide you with a new menu or another document that has the QR code or short URL. This at the very least reduces the risk of the code you’re going to scan being hacked.

Scanners are available for purchase

Another alternative is to install certain safety measures. QR code scanners may be replaced with a more secure version that will verify whether the URL you’re being sent to is safe or not and offer you the option to skip it or continue. You may already have this functionality built into your phone’s standard QR code scanner, so don’t worry about it.

You have a few alternatives when it comes to short URLs. It’s as simple as adding a “+” before the URL to see a preview created by Bitly. Just type “preview” in front of the abbreviated URL in TinyURL to see a preview of the link. A service like lets you check where the short URL will lead you before committing.

When it comes to our personal safety, convenience frequently trumps security, and we live in a society where compromising our cell phone is like leaving the door open to our home unlocked. With short URLs and QR codes, a few additional seconds of due diligence may save you time and headaches.