How do QR codes fit in with digital credentials

QR codes are great examples of how much of our lives depend on digital environments or information. When scanned by a phone or a QR code reader, the small square can take you to a website, a video, or even a certificate.

QR codes are extremely versatile and are now increasingly present in digital credentials, revolutionising the way we issue, share, and even verify diplomas, certificates, and other academic or professional achievements.

In this article, we explore the role this technology has played in the world of digital credentials, discussing what they are, how they can be used and why they are so popular. Keep reading to learn more. 

What is a QR code

A QR code, which stands for “Quick Response code,” is a two-dimensional barcode designed to store and quickly convey information. They consist of black squares arranged on a white square grid and can be scanned by various devices, including smartphones and barcode scanners.

A QR code can store a wide range of data types, such as text, URLs, contact information, Wi-Fi network credentials, calendar events, and more. To access this information, you need a QR code reader or scanner, which is often a feature built into smartphone camera apps. When you point your smartphone’s camera at a QR code, the scanner reads the code and decodes the information contained within it.

Once scanned, the information is typically displayed or acted upon on your device. For example, if the QR code contains a web URL, your smartphone may open the web page. If it contains contact information, you can add the contact to your phone’s address book. QR codes provide a convenient way to quickly access digital content or perform various actions without the need to type in information manually.

The versatility and ease of use make QR codes a valuable tool for sharing and accessing information in various contexts, both in the digital and physical world. QR codes have a wide range of applications, including but not limited to:

Marketing

Businesses use QR codes on posters, flyers, and advertisements to direct customers to websites, promotions, or product information.

Contactless payments

Some mobile payment apps use QR codes for transactions, allowing users to make payments by scanning a code displayed by the merchant.

Ticketing

QR codes are commonly used for electronic tickets for events, flights, or public transportation.

Product packaging

QR codes are often found on product packaging to provide access to user manuals, warranty information, or additional product details.

Authentication and security

QR codes can be used for two-factor authentication or to verify the authenticity of products.

Inventory management

In industries like logistics and retail, QR codes are used to track and manage inventory.

Healthcare

QR codes on patient wristbands and medical records can help healthcare professionals access critical patient information.

QR codes in digital credentials

The use of QR codes is broad and varied. As discussed, there are many different industries that are currently using QR codes for a variety of purposes. However, QR codes currently play a crucial role in digital credentialing, streamlining and enhancing the process of issuing, sharing, and verifying various types of digital credentials, such as certificates, diplomas, licenses, and more:

Issuing digital credentials

During the issuance of digital credentials, QR codes are generated to encode essential information, including the recipient’s name, the credential’s title, issuer details, issue date, and unique identifiers. This information is embedded within the QR code.

To ensure the integrity and authenticity of the credential, digital signatures or cryptographic hashes can be included within the QR code, making it tamper-resistant.

QR codes can also be customised to match the document’s branding or design. They can be styled with logos, colours, and other visual elements.

Sharing and distribution

For printed credentials like certificates or diplomas, the QR code is printed directly on the document. This allows recipients to access digital copies or verify the credential’s authenticity using a smartphone or QR code scanner.

In the case of digital documents (e.g., PDFs), QR codes can be embedded within the document, typically in the metadata. This allows for easy access to the digital credential.

QR codes can be shared via email, messaging apps, or other electronic communication channels, making it convenient for recipients to access and share their credentials.

Credential verification

Recipients or verifiers use QR code scanner apps on smartphones or dedicated QR code scanners to scan the QR code on the credential. The scanner extracts the encoded data, including the credential information and any digital signatures.

The extracted data is compared to a trusted source, such as an online database or a secure document repository, to verify the credential’s authenticity.

If a digital signature is included, it’s used to validate the document’s integrity. If the document has been tampered with, the signature will fail the verification process.

Verification process

To verify the document, a verifier uses a QR code scanner app or device to scan the QR code. This can be done with a smartphone, a dedicated scanner, or a computer with a webcam.

The scanner extracts the data from the QR code, including the document’s information and the digital signature (if present).

The verification process begins by comparing the extracted data with a trusted source, such as an online database or a secure document repository. This step confirms that the document is valid, hasn’t been tampered with, and matches the information in the database.

If a digital signature is included in the QR code, it’s used to verify the document’s integrity. The document’s content is hashed and compared to the signature within the QR code. If they match, the document is considered authentic.

If the document information matches the trusted source and the digital signature is valid, the document is considered genuine. If there are discrepancies in the data, the document has been tampered with, or the signature is invalid, the document is considered invalid or counterfeit.

Real-time updates and validation

QR codes can link to online databases, allowing for real-time validation. This is particularly valuable for credentials that may change or need to be updated regularly.

Benefits of including QR codes in digital credentials

Including QR codes in digital credentials offers a wide range of benefits, making the credentialing process more efficient, secure, and user-friendly. 

These benefits make the use of QR codes a compelling choice for organisations issuing and verifying digital credentials, such as academic institutions, professional certifying bodies, event organisers, and many others.

Efficient verification

QR codes enable instant access to credential information, speeding up the verification process.

It also eliminates the need for manual data entry, reducing the chances of errors during verification.

Enhanced security

QR codes can include digital signatures or cryptographic hashes to ensure the credential’s integrity and authenticity.

The presence of digital signatures and tamper resistance makes it difficult for counterfeit credentials to pass verification.

Accessibility

QR code scanning is easy and accessible to a wide audience, as most people have smartphones with QR code scanner apps.

The ubiquity of smartphones and QR code scanner apps ensures broad accessibility.

Real-time updates

QR codes can link to online databases, providing real-time updates and validation for the credential’s status. Recipients and verifiers can always access the most up-to-date information.

Customisation

QR codes can be customised to match the credential’s branding or design, incorporating logos, colours, and other visual elements.

Environmental sustainability

QR codes reduce the need for printed documents, contributing to environmental sustainability by saving paper and resources.

Backup and redundancy

QR codes serve as digital backups, ensuring that the credential’s information is not lost, even if the physical copy is damaged or misplaced.

Cost savings

Automating the verification process with QR codes can lead to cost savings by reducing the need for manual verification and data entry.

Security record-keeping

QR code verification systems can maintain records of verification events, which can be essential for compliance, reporting, and record-keeping purposes.

User convenience

QR codes make it simple for recipients to share their credentials electronically, reducing the hassle of sending physical copies.

Verifiers can quickly and confidently verify the credential’s authenticity, which is especially valuable for time-sensitive or high-stakes situations.

How to include a QR code in digital credentials

To add a QR code to a credential such as a diploma or certificate, you’ll need to follow several steps or partner with an institution such as Diplomasafe to issue safe and reliable credentials.

Here’s a general outline of the process:

Generate QR code

Choose a QR code generator or QR code creation software. There are many online tools and apps available for this purpose.

Input the relevant information you want to encode in the QR code, which typically includes the recipient’s name, the issuer’s name, the document type, issue date, and any other pertinent details.

Optionally, add a digital signature or cryptographic hash for added security and verification.

Customise the QR code

Depending on your preferences, you can customise the QR code’s appearance. This includes options like adding a logo or changing the colour of the QR code to match your document’s design.

Generate and download the QR code

Once you’ve input all the information and customised the QR code (if desired), generate the QR code.

Download the generated QR code as an image file (common formats include PNG or JPEG).

Include the QR code in the credential

If your document is digital (e.g., a PDF), you can embed the QR code directly into the document. Many PDF editing software tools allow you to insert images.

For printed credentials, you can print the QR code directly on the document. Common locations include the bottom corner or the backside of the document.

Test the QR code

Before finalising the credential, it’s essential to test the QR code to ensure it works correctly. Use a QR code scanner app on a smartphone or a dedicated QR code scanner device to verify that it accurately encodes and displays the information.

Link it to a verification system

For more advanced use cases, you can link the QR code to an online database or verification system. This allows real-time verification and updates for the credential’s status.

Ensure that the database or verification system is regularly updated with accurate information.

Distribution

If the credentials are printed, distribute them as usual, ensuring that recipients are aware of the QR code’s purpose for verification.

For digital documents, ensure that recipients understand how to access and use the QR code for verification.

Communication

Communicate the presence of the QR code to those who will verify the credential, such as employers, educational institutions, or other relevant parties.

Provide information on how to scan the QR code and what the verification process involves.

Final thoughts

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital credentialing, QR codes have emerged as a potent ally, simplifying the issuance, sharing, and verification of various credentials. They offer a compelling blend of efficiency, security, and accessibility, transforming traditional processes into streamlined, eco-friendly, and user-friendly experiences.

By embedding QR codes in digital credentials, organisations have not only expedited verification but also fortified the trust and security of their digital offerings. The inclusion of digital signatures and real-time updates ensures the utmost authenticity and integrity, thereby rendering the counterfeiting of credentials an arduous task.

Moreover, the reduction in manual data entry, the ability to customise QR codes, and their environmental benefits contribute to a more sustainable and cost-effective credentialing ecosystem. Users, from students and job seekers to event attendees, benefit from the convenience and peace of mind that QR code-backed credentials bring.

The role of QR codes in digital credentialing will continue to expand and diversify. Their adaptability and versatility make them an indispensable tool for organisations looking to future-proof their credentialing processes.