What is Quishing?

Attackers are constantly devising new strategies to outpace security measures. One such emerging threat is ‘Quishing’, a sophisticated form of phishing that leverages QR codes to deceive users. This novel tactic underscores a critical aspect of cybersecurity: as digital technologies evolve and integrate more deeply into our daily lives, so too do the methods of exploitation employed by cybercriminals. QR codes, once celebrated for their convenience and ease of use, have now been co-opted into the arsenal of these attackers. This development is a stark reminder that the race for cybersecurity is unending, with attackers continually adapting and evolving their strategies to evade even the most robust security tools. In this blog, we delve into the world of Quishing, exploring its mechanisms, the challenges it poses, and the innovative solutions necessary to counter this rising threat.

What is Quishing?

Quishing, a blend of “QR code” and “phishing”, is a relatively new form of cyberattack that exploits QR codes to execute phishing schemes. Traditional phishing relies on duping individuals into providing sensitive information via deceptive emails or messages. Quishing, on the other hand, takes advantage of the widespread use and inherent trust in QR codes — compact, square-shaped barcodes that can be scanned using smartphones to quickly access websites or information. In a quishing attack, these QR codes are manipulated to redirect unsuspecting users to malicious websites or trigger harmful actions on their devices. The deceptive nature of QR codes, which do not reveal their destination URLs at face value, makes quishing particularly insidious and difficult for users to detect. This method effectively bypasses some of the more recognizable signs of traditional phishing attempts, such as suspicious-looking URLs, thereby capitalizing on a gap in standard security awareness. As a result, quishing represents a significant and growing concern in the cybersecurity landscape, calling for new and adapted security measures to protect users from these hidden digital traps.

Tactics of QR Code Phishing

QR Code Phishing, or Quishing, employs tactics that uniquely exploit both technology and human behavior, making it a particularly effective form of cyberattack. One of the key reasons for its success is the manner in which these QR codes are delivered and interacted with.

  1. Bypassing Traditional Email Filters: QR codes are often embedded as images in emails, a method that cleverly evades traditional email filtering measures. Most email security systems are primed to detect suspicious links and text-based threats, but QR codes, being graphical images, typically slip through these filters unnoticed. This makes quishing a formidable challenge for conventional email security solutions.
  2. Shifting Critical Interactions to Mobile Devices: QR codes are predominantly scanned using smartphones, shifting the point of interaction from the traditionally more secure desktop environment to mobile devices. Many security teams are yet to extend their comprehensive security measures to mobile platforms, leaving a significant gap in defenses. Mobile devices often lack the robust security infrastructure present in corporate networks, making them more vulnerable to attacks initiated through QR codes.
  3. Dependence on Browser Security Measures: Ultimately, the security against quishing attacks largely hinges on the security measures of the browser in which the QR code’s embedded link is opened. As QR codes direct users to websites, the browser becomes the first line of defense against these attacks.

Addressing the Threat

Security teams face a multifaceted challenge in tackling QR code phishing, and in the absence of specialized tools like Keep Aware, they resort to a variety of strategies to mitigate this threat.

  1. Enhanced Email Security: Recognizing that quishing often begins with an email containing a QR code, security teams are investing in more advanced email security solutions. These systems are designed to more effectively scan and analyze email attachments, including images, for potential threats. By flagging emails that contain QR codes, especially from unknown or suspicious sources, these advanced filters can help reduce the likelihood of quishing attacks reaching end-users.
  2. Restricting Access on Devices: Another approach involves narrowing down the range of devices that can access company resources, especially SaaS applications. By limiting access to trusted devices with enhanced security measures, organizations can reduce the risk of employees inadvertently scanning malicious QR codes on less secure, personal mobile devices. This strategy often involves the use of Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems to enforce security policies on employee devices.
  3. Training and Awareness Programs: Given that quishing exploits human behavior, a significant emphasis is placed on user education and awareness. Security teams are increasingly conducting training programs to educate employees about the risks associated with QR codes. These programs typically include information on how to identify potentially malicious QR codes, the importance of scanning QR codes only from trusted sources, and the steps to take if a suspicious code is encountered.
  4. Implementing Safe Browsing Practices: Encouraging safe browsing practices is another key strategy. This involves guiding employees to be cautious when following links from QR codes and to avoid entering sensitive information on redirected websites. Some organizations also promote the use of QR code scanning apps that offer a preliminary check of the URL to which the QR code is linked, adding an extra layer of security.

While these strategies offer some level of protection against quishing, they are not foolproof. The limitations of traditional email filters, the challenges in managing device access, and the reliance on employee vigilance can leave gaps in security. This is where a comprehensive browser security solution like Keep Aware can provide a more robust defense, directly addressing the vulnerabilities that quishing exploits. Keep Aware’s focus on browser-level security and real-time threat detection offers an additional and necessary layer of protection in the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.

The Evolution of Phishing

Quishing is a testament to the evolving nature of phishing attacks. Cybercriminals continually develop new methods to exploit digital advancements and user behavior. The shift towards using QR codes in phishing represents a broader trend of attackers leveraging diverse tactics to reach users, increasingly driving them towards web-based threats.

How Keep Aware Browser Security Addresses Quishing

Keep Aware Browser Security is a powerful ally in the fight against quishing. Our solution offers:

  1. Advanced Web Content Analysis: Keep Aware scrutinizes the content and context of web pages accessed through QR codes, assessing their risk and authenticity.
  2. Real-Time Threat Prevention: Our technology provides immediate protection at the point of click, preventing users from accessing malicious sites hidden in QR codes.
  3. Educational and Proactive Measures: By integrating with the browsers, Keep Aware educates users on safe browsing practices, including the risks associated with QR codes, reinforcing a culture of cybersecurity awareness.
  4. Comprehensive Browser Security: Keep Aware’s browser-centric approach ensures that regardless of how a phishing attack is initiated – via email, QR code, or other methods – the organization’s network and data remain secure.

Keep Aware deploys across industry-standard browsers on workstations, laptops, and mobile phones while enabling security teams to manage security measures and policies from a central location.

In conclusion, as the digital landscape evolves, so do the threats. Quishing is a clear indicator of how traditional phishing methods have adapted to new technologies like QR codes. Keep Aware’s human-centric browser security solution is adept at addressing these modern challenges, providing organizations with the tools to protect against the ever-changing tactics of cybercriminals. By prioritizing browser security, Keep Aware empowers organizations to navigate the digital world with confidence, safeguarding their data, and maintaining operational integrity.