ATMs Provide Convenience ... at a Cost

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are so common in our society that we don’t even think twice about stopping at one to withdraw some ready cash. The first ATM appeared in New York in 1969, but it wasn’t until the late ‘70s that they begin to appear on street corners on a widespread basis. Since then, they have remained hallmarks of convenience and symbols of the intersection where technology meets our still-cash-driven society.

So, the last time you visited an ATM, what did you notice about it? It might have looked rather old and weather-worn. The keypad might have been faded and well-used. The fact is, a number of ATMs have been in service for many years, and like any such automated system, they are vulnerable to fraudsters.

BankInfoSecurity.com recently posted an interesting piece about just how vulnerable some ATMs happen to be. According to “Lessons from ATM Fraud Ring Arrests,” an Eastern European criminal gang conducted a string of thefts from ATMs with “outdated operating systems and universal access keys.” As the article points out:

To wage the attack, the criminals compromised the ATMs locally, after physically opening ATM enclosures, presumably with universal keys and/or codes, and installed Tyupkin malware via a bootable CD, says Europol, the European Union's law enforcement agency.
Tyupkin targets ATMs running Windows 32-bit, a much slower and more rigid version of the operating system than 64-bit, which is easier to update and patch and supports larger programs, according Kaspersky Labs, which analyzed the malware back in 2014.
While most of the infections were found in Europe, Kaspersky notes in its research that ATMs in the U.S., India, China, Israel, France and Malaysia also had been infected.

ATMs pose a unique risk factor for banks. The manner in which they are compromised can vary:

They can be subject to physical damage – in some highly publicized cases, criminals have smashed them with hammers, or simply ripped them from their bases and hauled them away with a vehicle.

  • An ATM is an easy tool for someone with a stolen card (if they happen to have the pin), or a target for perpetrators of identity theft.
  • Fraudsters can use devices called “skimmers” that are physically placed over the mouth of the machine, stealing card information when it is inserted. KrebsonSecurity.com details this type of ATM scam in
  • They can be hacked, either remotely or on-site (as happened in the Eastern European Case).

To avoid hacking, and to help protect against all manner of fraud, BankInfoSecurity suggests the following:

The best way for banks to protect themselves from these types of attacks is by ensuring their operating systems and software are up to date, running network analytics to detect anomalies in ATM traffic, changing default passcodes or universal keys used to open ATM enclosures, and regularly inspecting ATMs for tampering, experts agree.

It is noted that the Malware threat is growing. As technology changes and new operating systems are adopted, scammers also adopt new techniques and technology, looking to exploit vulnerabilities. With that in mind, even a brand new ATM might be nearly as vulnerable as the old, worn, outdated one. The key is to use established, tested software and keep it up to date with the latest security patches as needed. ATM fraud and theft costs billions worldwide. Since ATMs aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, neither will those who prey on them.