Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Can I Use QR Codes?

There is little doubt that you have seen the peculiar new "bar codes" appearing on packages, advertisements, and even in the newspaper. Just what are these and how do you use them?
These codes were originally designed by the Denso Wave company (part of Toyota) for tracking shipments across the world. However, since smartphones are now extremely common, they are being used for marketing purposes. A specialized program on a smartphone (such as an iPhone or Android-powered device) can take a picture of the code using its built-in camera, then decode the message it contains. These codes often contain a full web site address, which is automatically opened in the phone's web browser. For example, scanning the QR code on a box of cereal may take you to the manufacturer's web site, where you can learn more about their products, get coupons, etc.
In order to read these codes, you'll need a smartphone with a camera, and the proper software. While some phones come with this software preloaded, most do not. You'll need to download a program that is able to perform this task. Numerous applications that can read QR codes can be found for free, or sometimes for a cost, in the iPhone/iPad App Store and the Android Market. Some popular examples are QR Droid, Barcode Scanner, and ScanLife.
It is important to note that there exists such a thing as a malicious QR code. These could be placed over existing legitimate codes, and cause a number of different forms of damage. For example, the code could load a web page with malicious code, which then installs a virus or other malware on a smartphone. Such software could take control of the dialer, making phone calls and texts at your expense, be used to attack other sites (denial of service), turn on and take advantage of the microphone, camera, and GPS units, steal personal data, and more. Therefore, it is very important to be careful just what codes you scan.
Malicious QR codes can also take advantage of security flaws in the scanner application, and directly attack the phone software (without loading a web page.) This risk can be minimized by keeping the smartphone's operating system/firmware and all applications on it up to date, especially the scanner program. With a little caution, there are many great uses you can find for QR codes. Try making your own!


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