The dark side of QR codes

Quick response codes are everywhere -- magazines, take-out menus, and the sides of bus stops. But this marketing tool could be just the opportunity hackers are looking for.

CNET staff
Watch this: What may be lurking in QR codes?

There's a pretty good chance you've scanned a QR code with your smartphone. QR is short for "quick response." Hidden in those lines are embedded code only your smartphone can read that points it to a new location on the Web. Online marketing gurus are singing the digital praises for the inexpensive cost with maximum return on investment.

The real estate industry is one example. Agents are able to market their hottest properties and themselves by embedding QR codes into their signs and brochures. QR design companies say they're seeing exponential growth in their business over the past two years. But security experts say not so fast.

Taking your smartphone to a new site certainly can seem cool if you trust the source. But experts believe it's just a matter of time before hackers are able to hijack this clever code, taking you someplace you didn't plan on going. The results could be a nasty virus, botnet, or malicious code that records your personal information, your location, even your bank account numbers.

Your best defense, use common sense. Don't scan QR codes randomly found on the street or buildings. If you have to ask yourself who might have made this code, it's probably best to pass.