Investigating Verification Behavior and Perceptions of Visual Digital Certificates


Dañiel Gerhardt and Alexander Ponticello, CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security and Saarland University; Adrian Dabrowski and Katharina Krombholz, CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security


This paper presents a qualitative study to explore how individuals perceive and verify visual digital certificates with QR codes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, such certificates have been used in the EU to provide standardized proof of vaccination.

We conducted semi-structured interviews with N=17 participants responsible for verifying COVID-19 certificates as part of their job. Using a two-fold thematic analysis approach, we, among other things, identified and classified multiple behavioral patterns, including inadequate reliance on visual cues as a proxy for proper digital verification.

We present design and structural recommendations based on our findings, including conceptual changes and improvements to storage and verification apps to limit shortcut opportunities. Our empirical findings are hence essential to improve the usability, robustness, and effectiveness of visual digital certificates and their verification.

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@inproceedings {285395,
author = {Da{\~n}iel Gerhardt and Alexander Ponticello and Adrian Dabrowski and Katharina Krombholz},
title = {Investigating Verification Behavior and Perceptions of Visual Digital Certificates},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {3565--3582},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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