QR codes have many use cases, yet there’s a problem with deploying them for anti-counterfeit security. You must use QR codes as intended, or con artists will circumvent them. So, brand owners often ask, how do I make my QR code secure?

Indeed, the challenge is difficult but not impossible, so it’s imperative to use QR codes within an ecosystem of anti-counterfeit protection for maximum results. Otherwise, they won’t thwart the counterfeiters who will go to any lengths to ply their illegal trade, including forging QR codes and matrix codes. The encouraging news is that QR codes can be secured, and here’s how to do it well.

Why do brands use QR codes for anti-counterfeit security?

A quick response code is simple at a glance. It’s a small, square two-dimensional graphic with black and white patterns that link to a website for more information. In other words, the graphic is simply a scannable outbound link, so consumers don’t have to search for information manually. The convenience is undeniable, yet there’s a downside to using QR codes.

Matrix codes look similar and operate on the same principle, but they’re not substitutes for QR codes. Both graphics work by scanning the markings with a smartphone’s camera, making them easy for anyone to use. You don’t need specialized knowledge or software to read a QR code correctly, and you can scan them fast too.

The problem for brand owners is that counterfeiters exploit this simplicity, and it’s more challenging to stop fake QR codes from reaching consumers. Fraudsters have several ways to get around or alter the marking, so the right way to deploy QR codes is to use them for tracking and traceability, not strictly as an anti-counterfeit measure. Unfortunately, brand owners try to adapt QR codes to verify authenticity, and counterfeiters know this fact and exploit the misapplication.

QR codes, when deployed incorrectly, give users and brands a false sense of security. A quick example is how HP uses QR codes and holograms to verify the authenticity of ink cartridges. Consumers who buy HP cartridges must inspect the packaging themselves to determine whether or not it’s real and scan a QR code, which verifies authenticity. That’s the ideal scenario, but what happens when consumers don’t bother to scan the QR code and trust that it’s real because the hologram looks genuine at a glance?

Ultimately, QR codes rely on human verification. The security isn’t in the technology itself. If people never scan the code – or trust that the information is legitimate – they’re useless as an anti-counterfeit measure. Criminals understand this shortcoming, so that’s how they’re able to circumvent QR codes when used for verification. Without a doubt, a major brand like HP is very diligent against counterfeiting, but the bottom-line fact is that fake HP ink is still available online through less-than-reputable websites.

What are the risks of relying too much on QR codes?

Generally, the con works when counterfeiters place a hologram on top of genuine QR codes as long as it’s not drastically different. The idea is to fool a person, not necessarily a technology or software. Even if people inspect the hologram closely, they may be fooled because it seems natural to the untrained eye. Additionally, the QR code can contain fake information since the counterfeiters can add a link to a scam website within the QR code.

As long as the code sends users to a website, they have no idea they’re being scammed or worse. The fake domain can contain malware or try to fool consumers into providing their personal information. Fake QR codes linking to fake websites show a level of sophistication that should give brand owners pause. The positive side is that brands can deploy QR codes in an ecosystem of technologies without entirely relying on graphics to verify authenticity.

How to avoid QR code counterfeiting

If you rely on people to verify authenticity, criminals will exploit their trust. The alternative is to do the detection via a smartphone app, not a person. Everyone makes mistakes, and not everyone can spot fake anti-counterfeit measures on sight, such as fraudulent holograms and malicious QR codes. Furthermore, the best way to minimize the risk of counterfeiting is to use standard QR codes as intended: tracking and tracing technology.

The next step is to distribute the software through the App Store or Google Play store and prevent fake applications from reaching consumers, but you can also add another layer of protection. A cover security feature on top of or close to a QR code significantly strengthens security. Counterfeiters don’t have access to this kind of technology and can’t replicate it without extreme effort.

So, with that need in mind, we developed anti-counterfeit solutions to ensure that consumers can trust the information behind a QR code. By deploying Cryptoglyph on top of standard QR codes or using Secure QR Codes, brand owners can begin to implement an ecosystem of anti-counterfeit solutions.

Cryptoglyph and Secure QR Codes – Packaging and Label Protection

AlpVision’s powerful anti-counterfeit tech – Cryptoglyph – excels at securing packaging and labeling for many products. Originally developed in 2001, Cryptoglyph used to work by punching small holes with standard ink over a package’s surface. These tiny punctures were invisible to the naked eye, and counterfeiters had no way to copy them. To this very day, Cryptoglyph is a one-of-a-kind technology.

Additionally, we’ve built upon our Cryptoglyph technology and added Secure QR Code tech to our selection of anti-counterfeit systems to give brand owners a more trustworthy way to make QR codes as secure as possible. Other solutions rely on human interpretation, yet our solutions use a secure smartphone app for fast and accurate use.

With AlpVision, you can impart Cryptoglyphs in the varnish layer on top of a standard QR code or use Secure QR Code tech for packaging. Both approaches are extremely difficult for criminals to copy because they have no access to the underlying technologies. Indeed, Cryptoglyph is a robust tech, yet you can develop an even stronger system when you combine it with other technologies. This way, you will benefit from another layer of anti-counterfeit protection. The remaining question is how to integrate everything into a holistic ecosystem of anti-counterfeit defenses.

If you’d like to read more about which approach would work best for your organization, download our latest white paper for details on deploying Cryptoglyph and Secured QR Codes.


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