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How to scan QR code on Android, iPhone, or PC

People increasingly use QR codes for a wide variety of purposes. Let’s learn how to scan them on desktop and mobile devices and use them securely.

Paulius Ilevičius

Paulius Ilevičius

How to scan QR code on Android, iPhone, or PC

What is a QR code?

A QR code (also known as a quick response code) is a black-and-white square configuration with data encoded inside. Such matrix barcodes usually have a machine-readable optical label that contains information about an item or other data. Usually, QR codes redirect you to a website or application. You can read QR codes using imaging devices such as phone cameras.

QR codes are like more advanced barcodes because they can contain more data than their less-developed predecessors. So they make it easy to incorporate chunks of data in public spaces and online.

Today, QR codes are employed to convey certain data to their users — you can see them frequently used in restaurants replacing physical menus, scattered around cities containing various tourist info, or replacing paper tickets. QR codes became especially popular during the Covid pandemic because they offered a contactless way for people to gain access to public places and were employed for contact tracing. People can also use QR codes for:

  • Augmented reality to determine the position of objects in 3D space.
  • Storing passport data.
  • Buying and paying for goods. In some countries, you can pay and get stuff delivered to your home by simply scanning a QR code at the shop.
  • Login and authentication processes.
  • Joining a Wi-Fi network.
  • Counterfeit detection.

How do QR codes work?

QR codes are detected by 2D image sensors before they are digitally analyzed by a processor. The processor automatically locates the code by analyzing the code’s corners then converts the tiny dots in the code to binary numbers and validates the code with an error-correcting algorithm.

How to scan a QR code on iOS

You can scan an external QR code with your built-in iPhone camera. You need to:

1. Open your iPhone camera app.

How to scan a QR code on iOS

2. Select the rear-facing view.

How to scan a QR code on iOS

3. Point the camera to a QR code until the viewfinder appears in the camera app.

4. Wait a second until your device scans the code and shows you a notification. Then tap on the notification associated with the QR code.

How to scan a QR code on iOS

How to scan a QR code on Android

If you wish to scan QR codes on an Android device, the procedure is similar:

1. Open the camera app.

How to scan a QR code on Android

2. Make sure to use the rear-facing view.

How to scan a QR code on Android

3. Point the camera to a QR code and wait a bit.

How to scan a QR code on Android

4. Tap the banner that appears to open the link associated with the QR code.

How to scan a QR code on Android

If you can’t scan your QR code:

  • Try cleaning your camera lenses.
  • Adjust brightness settings to make your screen bright enough.
  • Make sure you hold the phone at the right angle and distance.
  • If it’s dark, you should turn on the flashlight to light up the surface with the QR code.
NordVPN QR code

How to scan a QR code from screenshots or images

If you wish to scan a QR code that comes from screenshots or images that are stored in the device you use for scanning, try the steps described below.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

First, download the Google Lens tool if you don’t have it already:

1. Tap and hold on the blank space on your iPhone home screen until the icons start jiggling. Tap the “+” icon in the top right corner.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

2. Scroll down and tap on “Google.”

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

3. Swipe till you see the Google lens icon and tap “Add widget.”

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

4. Now that the widget is added to your home screen, tap the blank space again to stop the icon from jiggling. Tap on the Lens app.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

5. Now you can select the image with a QR code from your photo library and scan it with Google Lens. If you don’t have the image in your library, you can always screenshot it and it will automatically appear there. Also, make sure to allow the app to access your photos. If you don’t wish for it to access all your photos, you can just give access to the selected photos. You can do it either in the app or in the iPhone’s settings section.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

Another way to do it is by:

1. Opening Google Photos.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

2. Allowing access to your photos if prompted.

3. Choosing an image with a QR code.

4. Tapping the lens button on the bottom and waiting for a few seconds until it scans the image.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

5. Tapping on the link notification.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on iOS

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on Android

Scanning QR images on Android is similar to scanning images in the iOS case:

1. Get the Google Lens app from the Google Play Store.

2. Select the photo with a QR code.

3. Scan it.

In some cases, the Google Lens feature is already implemented in the Android’s native gallery app. In this case:

1. Open the app.

2. Choose the image with a QR code.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on Android

3. The app automatically scans the code.

4. Tap on the notification to visit the website.

How to scan a QR code from a screenshot or image on Android

Please note that you can always use another third-party app to scan your QR images, but always make sure to use a safe one.

How to scan a QR code on PC

Below are the steps for scanning QR codes on your personal computer.

How to scan a QR code on Windows

If you use Windows 10, you will need an external QR reading app for reading QR codes. There are many available on the market. Just make sure to use a safe and reliable one. Then all you need to do is put a QR code in front of your webcam, and the app will scan it. The same goes for QR codes in screenshots and images that are stored on your Windows device.

However, scanning QR codes will become more straightforward in the future because Windows 11 will have an in-built QR scanner, so you will no longer need to use third-party apps.

How to scan a QR code on MacOS

As in the case with Windows, you will need a third-party app for MacOS. Simply find the secure one in Apple’s official app store and place a QR code in front of your camera. If you wish to scan QR codes from images or screenshots that are in your Mac device, you need a third-party app too.

Are QR codes safe?

QR codes are secure. They simply function as gateways to a website and cannot store any malicious data themselves. They also don’t track you and can’t collect your data. QR codes just redirect you to a place that their creators want you to visit.

However, a QR code can redirect you to a malicious website if a cybercriminal points it to such a place. Scammers can also employ QR codes for various social engineering purposes (for example, phishing emails) to extract data from you.

QR code security threats

Below we list the main QR security threats:

  • Malicious redirects. As mentioned above, a QR code can redirect you to a malicious website that can inject you with malware or otherwise compromise your system. NordVPN’s Threat Protection feature can help you in these cases because it can identify malicious websites, malware-ridden downloads and block trackers and ads.
  • Social engineering attacks. Scammers can employ QR codes for their social engineering attacks. For example, you can receive an email with a request to scan a QR code to get something or notice such a request somewhere in public. After you scan such a QR code and visit the linked website, hackers can compromise your data or access your phone. Fraudsters can also replace legitimate QR codes in public places with counterfeit ones to lure people into their cyber traps.
  • Financial theft. Sometimes QR codes are used for payments. A scammer can install such malicious code and then redirect you to a fake payment system and steal your money.
  • Clickjacking. Hackers can also use QR codes for clickjacking. For example, they can lead to legit websites with fake buttons that direct you to malicious sites.

How to use a QR code securely

Make sure to check out the following cybersecurity precautions when using QR codes:

  • Don’t scan QR codes that you are not sure where they lead to.
  • Don’t open the links generated by suspicious QR codes.
  • Always double-check the URL before visiting it. Usually, you can see the name of the website in the notification.
  • If your operating system has an in-built QR code scanner, don’t use third-party apps.

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Paulius Ilevičius
Paulius Ilevičius Paulius Ilevičius
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Paulius Ilevičius is a technology and art enthusiast who is always eager to explore the most up-to-date issues in cybersec and internet freedom. He is always in search for new and unexplored angles to share with his readers.