How Hackers are Increasing Cybercrime at the ATM

Media Division | August 9, 2017

Cyber attackers are constantly refining and evolving their methods to better compromise our digitally stored funds and data. This puts us in the position of having to adapt and improve our cyber security to maintain protection. One area that has been heavily targeted by attackers and hackers over the years has been ATMs. Whether it be skimmers or hidden cameras, they have been trying to steal individual’s card data for many years through these machines. Well once again, attackers have evolved their methods to insidiously capture individual’s card data. This time, they have begun employing infrared technology for this purpose.

Infrared technology has been used for many different purposes, such as TV remotes and photographing crime scenes. But, attackers employing this on ATMs is quite a new use for it. In June 2017, a type of ATM skimmer was discovered that was incredibly slim and was undetectable by the victim. A skimmer is a device that fits onto or over the ATM card reader, and when a person puts their card in, it will capture the card data. The newly discovered device had an antenna attached to it for the purpose of transmitting the captured data to a small camera that could see the keypad. The employed infrared technology comes in the form of the transmission, as it was able to send the data received by the skimmer, along with the video captured of the keyboard. This would provide the perpetrator the individual’s card details from the skimmer and their PIN number from the keypad video. It can be harder for attackers to use stolen card data when they are lacking the PIN number or other data, so this method offers them the whole package and allows them to receive the transmission from a distance.

The most dangerous factor of this type of skimmer is the matter of detection. Infrared has been being used to transmit data for quite some time, being that it is quite efficient and often faster than methods like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But, use of an infrared transmitter decreases the chances that they will be inadvertently detected in comparison to the other methods. This overall minimizes the danger for the attacker, as the only times they are at risk is during the placement of the devices and while receiving the signal. There is also the matter of the type of infrared that the devices were employing. If it was directed infrared, the criminal would have to be in the line of sight of the transmitter, but if it employed diffused infrared, they would only have to be within proximity of the signal, which makes it harder to discover them. And the components to build these types of devices is quite low these days, making them basically disposable to the criminal.

Cyber Security Methods to Protect Against Skimmers

There are a few cyber security practices that financial institutions can implement to protect their ATMs from these devices. They can regularly review video footage to discover any device plants, install facial recognition technology, and regularly check their ATMs for any hidden cameras or skimmers. All of these methods can help to reduce the occurrence of skimmer installation, as well as victimization to these devices.

As far as the public protecting themselves from any types of skimmers, there are also a couple methods for this.

  • Check for Skimmers Before Putting in Your Card – While this skimmer was quite well hidden, some are not. You can try pulling firmly on the card reader to see if it comes off. Many skimmers are placed directly on top of the actual reader, and will often come off if pulled on. You can also take a quick glance around and above the ATM interface for any cameras that seem out of place.
  • Cover Keypad – When entering in your PIN, ensure to cover the keypad. This will eliminate the chance for a criminal to obtain your PIN, which reduces their ability to do much with your card data if they happen to get it.

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