Thursday, May 22, 2014 - 22:32

Offline Hacking with QR Codes.

QR Codes are quite useful to transport extra information. Specifically in campaigns. You can put a lot more Mumbo Jumbo on a website compared to a poster with limited space for a badly 'shopped photo and a bullshit slogan. But they can have a quite nasty side effect.

In political campaigns it's rather common that posters will be destroyed, defaced or altered in various ways. It happens. This is why the usual meaningless BS slogan quickly turns out to be a bad choice since they provide for a much broader range of meaningful modifications.

The poster on the left is an actual poster for the 2014 EU elections and it's also an actual victim of QR code hacking.


It has all the usual ingredients. Meaningless BS slogan, 'shopped candidate and oversaturated colors. Usually a defacement would probably change the slogan or re-shop Ms Thein.

Such modifications are mostly obvious. Some are not but those are rare. As such they are hardly ever attributed with the campaign. People see that the poster had been modified.

But if you look at that brave new world QR code down below...It's sitting in a nice frame and can be replaced without much pain. In this case a painful experience for Ms. Thein and her party.

Some jokers simply replaced the QR code, which is a barely noticeable modification by interested people who are supposed to scan it.

The actual code was supposed to direct them to a campaign page with more political BS. Probably what everyone already suspected.

The modified version however linked to something completely different. Now to get the punchline here you need to understand the slogan. It translates to

Love knows no borders.

Quite generic BS even for political standards. The meaning seems to stem from Ms Thein's love for Berlin, Germany and pretty much everything else. She's a loving person. A peoples person. Or some BS along that line.

Anyway. You might already guess what the modified QR code linked to. Yes. PORN. An Oscar-winning production titled ... "Liebe kennt keine Grenzen".

Which sorta suggests that this is not just your quick-fix to a poster but a more organized attempt at Ms Thein.

The porn probably was a laugh for everyone but Ms Thein and her party. But this could have been much worse. The code could equally well link to a page that actually does real damage to the campaign. And it is nearly impossible to find out which poster has been modified. You'd have to closely examine or even  scan each and every stupid poster you have. Which could easily be hundreds or even thousands.

The bottom line of this is.

QR codes are awesome in general. Not so awesome for controversial or political campaigns where you more likely than not will have more or less sophisticated manipulations.

While you planned a rather expensive campaign you actually subsidized a pretty cheap counter campaign piggybacking on your posters. If the new home for the code is not a campaign site but a site by some random guys with suitable content there's hardly any way to even figure out who might have sabotaged your campaign.

I'm a big fan of twisted guerrilla style campaigns. QR codes are not the best way to hijack something since they are not necessarily scanned in large numbers. But there's hardly a cheaper way that still remains remotely sophisticated. Property damage is not overly legal of course.

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