A greater number of ATM skimming incidents now involve so-called “insert skimmers,” wafer-thin fraud devices made to fit snugly and invisibly inside a cash machine’s card acceptance slot. New evidence suggests that at least some of these insert skimmers — which record card data and store it on a tiny embedded flash drive are — equipped with technology allowing it to transmit stolen card data wirelessly via infrared, the same technology built into a television remote control.
Once you understand how easy and common it is for thieves to attach “skimming” devices to ATMs and other machines that accept debit and credit cards, it’s difficult not to closely inspect and even tug on the machines before using them. Several readers who are in the habit of doing just that recently shared images of skimmers they discovered after gently pulling on various parts of a cash machine they were about to use.
The U.S. Secret Service is warning banks and ATM owners about a new technological advance in cash machine skimming known as “periscope skimming,” which involves a specialized skimming probe that connects directly to the ATM’s internal circuit board to steal card data.
One basic tenet of computer security is this: If you can’t vouch for a networked thing’s physical security, you also cannot vouch for its cybersecurity. That’s because in most cases, networked things really aren’t designed to foil a skilled and determined attacker who can freely connect his own devices. So you can imagine my shock and horror seeing a Cisco switch and wireless antenna sitting exposed atop of an ATM out in front of a bustling grocery store in my hometown of Northern Virginia.
Skimming attacks on ATMs increased at an alarming rate last year for both American and European banks and their customers, according to recent stats collected by fraud trackers. The trend appears to be continuing into 2016, with outbreaks of skimming activity visiting a much broader swath of the United States than in years past.
If you have ever walked up to an ATM to withdraw cash only to decide against it after noticing a telephone or ethernet cord snaking from behind the machine to a jack in the wall, your paranoia may not have been misplaced: ATM maker NCR is warning about skimming attacks that involve keypad overlays, hidden cameras and skimming devices plugged into the ATM network cables to intercept customer card data.
In the previous two stories, I documented the damage wrought by an organized crime gang in Mexico that has been systematically bribing ATM technicians to install Bluetooth skimming components that allow thieves to steal card and PIN data wirelessly. What follows is a look at a mysterious new ATM company in Mexico that sources say may be tied to the skimming activity.
I spent four days last week in Mexico, tracking the damage wrought by an organized crime ring that is bribing ATM technicians to place Bluetooth skimmers inside of cash machines in and around the tourist areas of Cancun. Today’s piece chronicles the work of this gang in coastal regions farther south, following a trail of hacked ATMs from Playa Del Camen down to the ancient Mayan ruins in Tulum.
-Sept. 9, 12:30 p.m. CT, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: Halfway down the southbound four-lane highway from Cancun to the ancient ruins in Tulum, traffic inexplicably slowed to a halt. There was some sort of checkpoint ahead by the Mexican Federal Police. I began to wonder whether it was a good idea to have brought along the ATM skimmer instead of leaving it in the hotel safe. If the cops searched my stuff, how could I explain having ultra-sophisticated Bluetooth ATM skimmer components in my backpack?
Most of us know to keep our guard up when withdrawing cash from an ATM and to look for any signs that the machine may have been tampered with. But ATM fraud experts say they continue to see criminal innovations with “insert skimmers,” wafer-thin data theft devices that fit inside the ATM’s card acceptance slot and do not alter the outward appearance of a compromised cash machine.