Quishing Exposed: How Scammers Use QR Codes to Phish Your Secrets

In the dynamic realm of cybersecurity, a new threat has emerged, capturing the attention of experts and users alike: Quishing. This term, a portmanteau of ‘QR code’ and ‘phishing’, represents a sophisticated cyber threat that exploits the ubiquitous QR code. Quishing is a phishing attack using QR codes, exploiting the widespread trust in QR technology. Attackers distribute malicious QR codes through emails, websites, or physical media, leading victims to harmful sites or malware downloads. It’s dangerous as it simplifies credential theft and malware spread.

At the forefront of cyber threats, phishing continues to be a significant contributor to data breaches globally. This traditional form of cybercrime has evolved, now incorporating QR codes into its arsenal, thereby broadening its scope and impact. The cybercrime landscape witnessed a notable disruption with Interpol’s takedown of ’16shop’, a major phishing-as-a-service platform. Despite this victory, the persistent availability of such platforms poses an ongoing threat, enabling even those with minimal technical expertise to initiate complex phishing operations.

Trellix’s research into quishing campaigns offers valuable insights into this emerging cyber threat. Their findings reveal a worrying increase in quishing-related email samples, highlighting the method’s growing popularity among cybercriminals for executing sophisticated attacks.

Key insights from Trellix’s research include:

  1. Rising Incidence of Quishing Attacks: Trellix has identified a significant number of email samples linked to quishing. This surge indicates that attackers are increasingly adopting QR code-based phishing as a preferred tactic, capitalizing on the widespread use and general trust in QR codes.
  2. Diverse Attack Methods: The quishing campaigns uncovered by Trellix are not monolithic but varied in their approach. They encompass a range of tactics, including business email compromise, credential theft, and malware distribution. This diversity in attack methods demonstrates the versatility of quishing as a tool for cybercriminals.
  3. Sophistication and Deception: The campaigns exhibit a high level of sophistication. Attackers craft emails that appear legitimate, often mimicking trusted entities or services. The use of QR codes adds a layer of deception, as these are generally perceived as safe and are less likely to raise suspicion among users.
  4. Targeting Specific Sectors: Trellix’s research also suggests that certain sectors may be more targeted than others, although quishing has the potential to affect a wide range of industries. Businesses that frequently use QR codes for operations or marketing might be particularly vulnerable.
  5. Evolution of Tactics: The evolution of quishing tactics over time is another critical insight. As users become more aware of traditional phishing methods, attackers are adapting and finding new ways to exploit QR codes to bypass conventional security measures. The global reach of these campaigns, impacting various countries and regions, indicates that quishing is not a localized threat but a global one. This necessitates a worldwide awareness and preparedness approach.

One of the most striking aspects of quishing, as revealed in Trellix’s research, is its geographical spread. The data indicates a significant surge in quishing emails, with a notable concentration in specific regions, suggesting a targeted approach by cybercriminals. This trend highlights not only the growing preference for quishing as a method of attack but also its global reach.

Countries like the United States, Germany, Canada, Sweden, and Australia have been identified as primary targets in these quishing campaigns. This could be attributed to various factors, including the high penetration of technology, the prevalence of QR code usage, and the presence of lucrative targets in these regions. The widespread adoption of QR codes in these countries, especially for contactless transactions and information sharing, presents an attractive opportunity for attackers.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the quishing phenomenon is not limited to these nations alone. Countries such as Japan, Singapore, France, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Korea have also been impacted, demonstrating the global nature of this threat. This wide-reaching impact underscores the need for international cooperation and awareness in combating quishing attacks.

The geographical spread of quishing attacks serves as a crucial reminder of the borderless nature of cyber threats. As technology continues to advance and integrate more deeply into our daily lives, the potential for such attacks grows, making it imperative for individuals and organizations worldwide to stay vigilant and adopt robust cybersecurity measures.

Postal Quishing: A New Avenue for Cybercriminals

Postal quishing represents a novel and increasingly prevalent form of cyber attack, where phishing attempts are disguised within the context of postal and courier services. This method of quishing exploits the trust and familiarity that people have with postal and delivery services, making it a particularly insidious form of cyber deception.

Key Characteristics of Postal Quishing:

  1. Impersonation of Legitimate Services: In postal quishing, attackers often impersonate well-known courier and postal services like FedEx, DHL, and UPS. They craft emails that closely mimic the official communication style of these companies, including their branding and email format.
  2. Use of QR Codes: Central to these attacks are QR codes presented as a convenient way for recipients to track packages, update delivery preferences, or resolve delivery issues. When scanned, these QR codes redirect the user to malicious websites.
  3. Phishing for Credentials: The ultimate goal of these malicious websites is often to harvest personal information, login credentials, or financial data. Users may be prompted to enter sensitive information under the guise of verifying their identity to view tracking information or update delivery settings.
  4. Exploiting Urgency and Trust: Postal quishing attacks exploit the sense of urgency typically associated with parcel deliveries. Users, concerned about receiving their packages on time or resolving delivery issues, may be less vigilant and more likely to scan the provided QR codes without suspicion.

Spear Quishing: Targeted Phishing Attacks Using QR Codes

Spear quishing represents a highly targeted and sophisticated form of phishing that combines the elements of spear phishing with the deceptive use of QR codes. Unlike broader phishing campaigns, spear quishing is characterized by its focus on specific individuals or organizations, making it a particularly dangerous and effective cyber threat.

Key Aspects of Spear Quishing:

  1. Targeted Approach: Spear quishing attacks are not random; they are carefully crafted to target specific individuals or entities. Attackers often conduct thorough research to gather personal or organizational information, which is then used to personalize the phishing attempts, making them more convincing.
  2. Impersonation of Trusted Entities: In spear quishing, attackers frequently impersonate trusted figures or entities, such as HR departments, IT support, or senior executives within an organization. This impersonation is designed to exploit the trust and authority of these figures, increasing the likelihood of the target engaging with the QR code.
  3. Use of QR Codes for Deception: Central to spear quishing is the use of QR codes as a means to redirect targets to malicious websites. These QR codes are often embedded in emails or documents that appear legitimate and relevant to the target’s role or interests.
  4. Highly Convincing Tactics: The emails or documents used in spear quishing are meticulously designed to look authentic, often replicating the format, language, and branding of legitimate communications from the impersonated entity. This level of detail makes it challenging for targets to distinguish between genuine and fraudulent messages.
  5. Stealing Sensitive Information: The ultimate goal of spear quishing is typically to steal sensitive information, such as login credentials, financial data, or confidential organizational information. Once a target scans the QR code and lands on the malicious site, they may be prompted to enter this information.
  6. Exploiting Urgency and Authority: Spear quishing attacks often create a sense of urgency or importance, pressuring the target to act quickly. This urgency, combined with the apparent authority of the sender, can lead to hasty decisions and a higher likelihood of falling for the scam.
  7. Need for Enhanced Vigilance: The targeted nature of spear quishing requires a heightened level of vigilance and skepticism, especially when dealing with unsolicited communications that include QR codes. Training and awareness programs within organizations can play a crucial role in educating employees about the signs of such attacks.

In summary, spear quishing is a dangerous evolution in phishing tactics, leveraging the targeted approach of spear phishing with the novel use of QR codes. Its effectiveness lies in its ability to exploit trust and authority, making it imperative for individuals and organizations to adopt proactive measures and cultivate a culture of cybersecurity awareness to combat these threats.

File-share Quishing: Exploiting Collaboration Platforms for Phishing

File-share quishing is a sophisticated cyber attack method where cybercriminals exploit popular file-sharing and collaboration platforms to execute phishing attacks. This form of quishing is particularly insidious as it takes advantage of the trust users place in these commonly used digital tools.

Key Characteristics of File-share Quishing:

  1. Leveraging Trusted Platforms: Attackers use well-known file-sharing services like SharePoint, Google Drive, Dropbox, or DocuSign in their quishing campaigns. They create malicious content that appears to be legitimate shared documents or files from these platforms.
  2. Use of QR Codes: Integral to file-share quishing is the use of QR codes embedded in emails or fake notifications. These QR codes, when scanned, redirect users to phishing sites disguised as login pages for the legitimate file-sharing service.
  3. Phishing for Credentials: The primary objective of these phishing sites is to harvest user credentials. Unsuspecting users, believing they are accessing a shared file or document, enter their login details, which are then captured by the attackers.
  4. Mimicking Legitimate Communications: The emails or notifications used in file-share quishing closely mimic the style, branding, and language of genuine communications from the file-sharing service. This similarity makes it challenging for users to identify the fraudulent nature of these messages.
  5. Exploiting the Nature of Collaboration: File-share quishing exploits the collaborative nature of workplaces where sharing documents and files is routine. Employees are less likely to suspect a phishing attempt when it appears to be part of their regular workflow.
  6. Targeting Organizations: This form of quishing is particularly effective in organizational settings where employees are accustomed to receiving and sharing documents through these platforms. The attackers often tailor their campaigns to fit the context of the targeted organization.
  7. Rising Prevalence in Remote Work Era: With the increase in remote work and the reliance on digital collaboration tools, file-share quishing has become more prevalent. The distributed nature of workforces can make it harder for employees to verify the authenticity of shared files, leading to a higher risk of falling for such scams.
  8. Need for Robust Security Protocols: To combat file-share quishing, organizations need robust security protocols, including multi-factor authentication and regular cybersecurity training for employees. Educating staff about the signs of phishing and the importance of verifying the source of shared files is crucial.

In conclusion, file-share quishing represents a significant threat in the digital workspace, exploiting the functionalities of collaboration platforms to conduct phishing attacks. Awareness and education, combined with strong security measures, are key to protecting against these sophisticated cyber threats.

Event Registration Quishing:

  • Explanation: Attackers create fake event registration pages. The QR code in promotional materials or emails, when scanned, leads to these fraudulent sites.
  • Example: You see a flyer about a local music festival with a QR code for easy registration. Scanning the code takes you to a fake registration page, which steals your credit card details when you attempt to buy tickets.

Restaurant Menu Quishing:

  • Explanation: Cybercriminals replace physical menus with QR codes that direct to phishing websites, under the guise of viewing the menu.
  • Example: At a restaurant, you scan a QR code thinking it will display the menu, but instead, it redirects to a site that asks for your personal details, supposedly for a special offer.

Public Wi-Fi Quishing:

  • Explanation: Scammers set up QR codes in public areas, offering free Wi-Fi access. These codes lead to malicious sites.
  • Example: In a coffee shop, a QR code promising free Wi-Fi access actually leads to a phishing site that attempts to harvest your credentials.