Covert QR codes: How to hide in the crowd
This paper investigates a novel approach of distributing a hidden message via public channels. The proposed approach employs visual subterfuge to conceal secret information within a QR code. Using a QR code reader, any individual can decode the public information contained in the QR code. However, only authorized users who have the necessary credentials will be able to obtain the secret message, which is encoded in the form of a secret QR code. We call this a Covert QR (CQR) code scheme. To embed the secret information, this approach exploits the error correction mechanism inherent in the QR code structure. By using QR codes to conceal information, the proposed scheme has the advantage of reducing the likelihood of attracting the attention of potential adversaries. In addition, the information in QR codes can be scanned and decoded through the visual channel. As such, the secret information can be distributed on printed media and is not restricted to an electronic form.