Could Your Barcode Scanners Get Hacked?

Barcode scanners are not a new technology. They have been around for years. 


Used in grocery stores, retail, fast food restaurants and more recently on our mobile devices to pay for nearly anything and everything!


In the past, you may have been worried about someone hacking an ATM or stealing your credit card number. But you probably have never considered the barcode scanner at nearly every retail establishment could be hacked! 


Mobile payment has been on the rise every week. More than 4 million mobile transactions are initiated on the Starbucks mobile app. PayPal reported 227bn USD of payment volume in 2018, and 51% of mobile device owners have used a mobile retail app to buy a product or service in the past month. 28% used a mobile wallet app to pay in-store (e.g. Apple Pay, Starbucks App, etc). 


How Secure are these Payments? What’s at Risk? 


2D barcode technology may seem an unlikely place for hackers to target, but it does come with concerns in security due to the easy replication of the barcode. 2D technology is a one-way system that is made to only scan barcodes. Even though they are easily replicated, there is a smaller risk at this level. 


However, when barcodes go digital and interface with your entire mobile wallet, things become much more risky. Some of the most prominent companies, like Starbucks, have had issues with hackers gaining access to their barcode systems. Even airline boarding passes have been used to gain access to multitudes of personal information and accounts. 


Most barcode scanners leverage USB technology and function as a second keyboard to a computer with in-depth data behind each of the codes. If hackers gain access to the barcode scanner, they would gain full access to your computer. Once in, they could potentially disable a firewall, delete files, or give other hackers your IP address!


Hackers use malicious barcodes to gain access to the barcode scanner. If successful, this access via the USB connection can wreak havoc on an entire system and be able to take over an entire network.   


How to Prevent a Barcode Hack? 


For Companies who use Barcode Technology: 

  1. Invest in security measures to make sure that the scanners you are using have firewall technology if available. 
  2. If invalid barcodes are scanned, try using audible alarms to quickly recognize potential threats. 

Tips for Consumers: 

  1. Do your research when downloading and using mobile apps to pay and use to scan.
  2. If your phone is lost or stolen, make sure you cancel or block any accounts that have personal banking information stored. 
  3. Never take a photo of your boarding pass or screenshot a barcode and share on social media 


Most importantly, never take a system’s security for granted. 


Hackers can find a way to gain access to your system through simple screen grabs or malicious barcode use at the scanner. 


Once they have access, since the system technology is through USB, a very quick keystroke sequence is all that’s needed for an entire network to be compromised. 


Always take necessary precautions to ensure that information and your customer’s contact details is secure with every scan.