This author has long been fascinated with ATM skimmers, custom-made fraud devices designed to steal card data and PINs from unsuspecting users of compromised cash machines. But a recent spike in malicious software capable of infecting and jackpotting ATMs is shifting the focus away from innovative, high-tech skimming devices toward the rapidly aging ATM infrastructure in the United States and abroad.
Last month, media outlets in Malaysia reported that organized crime gangs had stolen the equivalent of about USD $1 million with the help of malware they’d installed on at least 18 ATMs across the country. Several stories about the Malaysian attack mention that the ATMs involved were all made by ATM giant NCR. To learn more about how these attacks are impacting banks and the ATM makers, I reached out to Owen Wild, NCR’s global marketing director, security compliance solutions.
Wild said ATM malware is here to stay and is on the rise.
BK: I have to say that if I’m a thief, injecting malware to jackpot an ATM is pretty money. What do you make of reports that these ATM malware thieves in Malaysia were all knocking over NCR machines?
OW: The trend toward these new forms of software-based attacks is occurring industry-wide. It’s occurring on ATMs from every manufacturer, multiple model lines, and is not something that is endemic to NCR systems. In this particular situation for the [Malaysian] customer that was impacted, it happened to be an attack on a Persona series of NCR ATMs. These are older models. We introduced a new product line for new orders seven years ago, so the newest Persona is seven years old.
BK: How many of your customers are still using this older model?
OW: Probably about half the install base is still on Personas.
BK: Wow. So, what are some of the common trends or weaknesses that fraudsters are exploiting that let them plant malware on these machines? I read somewhere that the crooks were able to insert CDs and USB sticks in the ATMs to upload the malware, and they were able to do this by peeling off the top of the ATMs or by drilling into the facade in front of the ATM. CD-ROM and USB drive bays seem like extraordinarily insecure features to have available on any customer-accessible portions of an ATM.
OW: What we’re finding is these types of attacks are occurring on standalone, unattended types of units where there is much easier access to the top of the box than you would normally find in the wall-mounted or attended models.
BK: Unattended….meaning they’re not inside of a bank or part of a structure, but stand-alone systems off by themselves.
BK: It seems like the other big factor with ATM-based malware is that so many of these cash machines are still running Windows XP, no?
OW: Right now, that’s not a major factor. It is certainly something that has to be considered by ATM operators in making their migration move to newer systems. Microsoft discontinued updates and security patching on Windows XP, with very expensive exceptions. Where it becomes an issue for ATM operators is that maintaining Payment Card Industry (credit and debit card security standards) compliance requires that the ATM operator be running an operating system that receives ongoing security updates. So, while many ATM operators certainly have compliance issues, to this point we have not seen the operating system come into play.
OW: Yes. If anything, the operating systems are being bypassed or manipulated with the software as a result of that.
BK: Wait a second. The media reports to date have observed that most of these ATM malware attacks were going after weaknesses in Windows XP?
OW: It goes deeper than that. Most of these attacks come down to two different ways of jackpotting the ATM. The first is what we call “black box” attacks, where some form of electronic device is hooked up to the ATM — basically bypassing the infrastructure in the processing of the ATM and sending an unauthorized cash dispense code to the ATM. That was the first wave of attacks we saw that started very slowly in 2012, went quiet for a while and then became active again in 2013.
The second type that we’re now seeing more of is attacks that start with the introduction of malware into the machine, and that kind of attack is a little less technical to get on the older machines if protective mechanisms aren’t in place.
BK: What sort of protective mechanisms, aside from physically securing the ATM?
OW: If you work on the configuration setting…for instance, if you lock down the BIOS of the ATM to eliminate its capability to boot from USB or CD drive, that gets you about as far as you can go. In high risk areas, these are the sorts of steps that can be taken to reduce risks.
BK: Seems like a challenge communicating this to your customers who aren’t anxious to spend a lot of money upgrading their ATM infrastructure.
OW: Most of these recommendations and requirements have to be considerate of the customer environment. We make sure we’ve given them the best guidance we can, but at end of the day our customers are going to decide how to approach this.
BK: You mentioned black-box attacks earlier. Is there one particular threat or weakness that makes this type of attack possible? One recent story on ATM malware suggested that the attackers may have been aided by the availability of ATM manuals online for certain older models.
OW: The ATM technology infrastructure is all designed on multivendor capability. You don’t have to be an ATM expert or have inside knowledge to generate or code malware for ATMs. Which is what makes the deployment of preventative measures so important. What we’re faced with as an industry is a combination of vulnerability on aging ATMs that were built and designed at a point where the threats and risk were not as great.
According to security firm F-Secure, the malware used in the Malaysian attacks was “PadPin,” a family of malicious software first identified by Symantec. Also, Russian antivirus firm Kaspersky has done some smashing research on a prevalent strain of ATM malware that it calls “Tyupkin.” Their write-up on it is here, and the video below shows the malware in action on a test ATM.
In a report published this month, the European ATM Security Team (EAST) said it tracked at least 20 incidents involving ATM jackpotting with malware in the first half of this year. “These were ‘cash out’ or ‘jackpotting’ attacks and all occurred on the same ATM type from a single ATM deployer in one country,” EAST Director Lachlan Gunn wrote. “While many ATM Malware attacks have been seen over the past few years in Russia, Ukraine and parts of Latin America, this is the first time that such attacks have been reported in Western Europe. This is a worrying new development for the industry in Europe”
Card skimming incidents fell by 21% compared to the same period in 2013, while overall ATM related fraud losses of €132 million (~USD $158 million) were reported, up 7 percent from the same time last year.