Fast forward to today and scanning QR Codes with a mobile phone is commonplace. QR codes are in advertising, in mobile applications, and on more and more of the physical products we buy. Ironically the same convenience that has made QR codes popular is also cited as a security problem. Namely, because users instinctively just scan QR codes, their seemingly random shapes and patterns could contain a malicious URL and the user would be none the wiser until it’s too late. Considering the worry, it’s worth remembering that email still remains the most successful and prolific payload delivery for malicious links. That hardly stops literally billions of emails from being sent every day – as with email, and SMS texting for that matter, QR codes offer more convenience than they do danger. Modern applications using QR codes on a digital screen don’t even offer the opportunity to insert a bad link. They usually display a code that changes periodically, say every 30 seconds, to avoid the problem altogether. Every day hundreds of millions of people safely use QR codes in multi-factor user authentication or mobile payment apps. With that increased usage, it’s time to reconsider how we think about the security of printed QR codes. Scantrust has given the issue years of thought and the result is nothing short of incredible.

Combining a secure graphic with a QR code to make a secured QR code

inserting a secure graphic into a QR code creates intrinsic copy protection

A copy detection pattern, or secure graphic is a digital image optimally designed to irreversibly lose information when it is copied and printed. Because of this feature, copies always contain less information than original prints. By inserting a randomly generated secure graphic into the digital image of a QR code, it becomes a secured QR code, with intrinsic copy protection. By using this technology, threats from counterfeiting and malicious links are reduced substantially if not altogether eliminated.

This kind of graphical security technology is far more efficient to integrate with packaging than other security features. A digital QR code containing the secure graphic is printed onto products and that’s it. Every single unit with the secured QR is protected against copy by the same principle, even if the QR code is printed billions of times.

This technology is mature and already deployed on products. As QR codes are now mainstream, largely the effect of feature rich smartphones being ubiquitous, there is no major barrier to mass adoption. When Scantrust first introduced the secured QR code seven years ago, it was the only technology with real-time authentication using a smartphone. That’s changed and there are already other competing technologies on the market, most of them using digital watermarks or unique fingerprints. But while these other technologies offer the same core functionality of allowing a user to authenticate a product with a smartphone, the Scantrust solution stands out far and away in terms of value relative to implementation costs while adding a much needed layer of robust security to the sometimes maligned, but ever present QR code. This QR code technology is already in production and already making more physical products verifiably genuine. Yes, QR codes can be safe and secure.