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.
Viewed from less than two feet away, this ATM looks reasonably safe to use, right?
Although it may be difficult to tell from even this close, this ATM’s card acceptance slot and cash dispenser are both compromised by skimming devices.
But something fishy comes into view when we change our perspective slightly. Can you spot what doesn’t belong here?
Can you spot what doesn’t belong here?
Congratulations if you noticed the tiny pinhole in the upper right corner of the phony black bezel that was affixed over top of the cash dispenser slot. That fake bezel overlay contained a tiny pinhole camera angled toward the PIN pad to record time-stamped videos of people entering their PINs:
A closeup of the tiny pinhole that allows a mini spy camera embedded in the fake cash dispenser bezel to record customers entering their PINs.
How about the card acceptance slot? Looks legit (if a tad shinier than the rest of the ATM), right?
What happens if we apply a tiny bit of pressure to the anti-skimming green bezel where customers are expected to insert their ATM cards? Look at that! The cheap plastic bezel that skimmer thieves placed on top of the real card acceptance slot starts to pull away. Also, you can see some homemade electronics that are not very well hidden at the mouth of the bezel.
Notice the left side of this card skimmer overlay starts to pull away from the rest of the facade when squeezed. Also note the presence of a circuit board close to the mouth of the fake bezel.
One basic tenet of computer security is this: If you can’t vouch for a networked thing’s physical security, you cannot also 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 physically 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.
But I’ve never before seen a setup quite this braindead. Take a look:
An ATM in front of a grocery store in Northern Virginia.
Now let’s have a closer look at the back of this machine to see what we’re dealing with:
Need to get online in a jiffy? No problem, this ATM has plenty of network jacks for you to plug into. What could go wrong?
Daniel Battisto, the longtime KrebsOnSecurity reader who alerted me to this disaster waiting to happen, summed up my thoughts on it pretty well in an email.
“I’d like to assume, for the sake of sanity, that the admin who created this setup knows that Cisco security is broken relatively simple once physical access is gained,” said Battisto, a physical and IT security professional. “I’d also like to assume that all unused interfaces are shutdown, and port-security has been configured on the interfaces in use. I’d also like to assume that the admin established a good console login.” Continue reading →
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.
Two network cable card skimming devices, as found attached to this ATM.
In a series of recent alerts, the FICO Card Alert Service warned of large and sudden spikes in ATM skimming attacks. On April 8, FICO noted that its fraud-tracking service recorded a 546 percent increase in ATM skimming attacks from 2014 to 2015.
“The number of ATM compromises in 2015 was the highest ever recorded by the FICO Card Alert Service, which monitors hundreds of thousands of ATMs in the US,” the company said. “Criminal activity was highest at non-bank ATMs, such as those in convenience stores, where 10 times as many machines were compromised as in 2014.”
While 2014 saw skimming attacks targeting mainly banks in big cities on the east and west coasts of the United States, last year’s skimming attacks were far more spread out across the country, the FICO report noted.
Earlier this year, I published a post about skimming attacks targeting non-bank ATMs using hidden cameras and skimming devices plugged into the ATM network cables to intercept customer card data. The skimmer pictured in that story was at a 7-Eleven convenience store.
Since that story ran I’ve heard from multiple banking industry sources who said they have seen a spike in ATM fraud targeting cash machines in 7-Elevens and other convenience stores, and that the commonality among the machines is that they are all operated by ATM giant Cardtronics (machines in 7-Eleven locations made up for 17.5 percent of Cardtronics’ revenue last year, according to this report at ATM Marketplace).
Some financial institutions are taking dramatic steps to head off skimming activity. Trailhead Credit Union in Portland, Ore., for example, has posted a notice to customers atop its Web site, stating:
“ALERT: Until further notice, we have turned off ATM capabilities at all 7-11 ATMs due to recent fraudulent activity. Please use our ATM locator for other locations. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”
Trailhead Credit Union has stopped allowing members to withdraw cash from 7-11 ATMs.
7-Eleven did not respond to requests for comment. Cardtronics said it wasn’t aware of any banks blocking withdrawals across the board at 7-11 stores or at Cardtronics machines.
“While Cardtronics is aware that a single financial institution [Xceed Financial Credit Union] temporarily restricted ATM access late in 2015, it soon thereafter restored full ATM access to its account holders,” the company said in a statement. “As the largest ATM services provider, Cardtronics has a long history of executing a layered security strategy and implementing innovative security enhancements at our ATMs. As criminals modify their attack, Cardtronics always has and always will aggressively respond, reactively and proactively, with innovation to address these instances.” Continue reading →
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.
Two network cable card skimming devices, as found attached to this ATM.
In an alert sent to customers Feb. 8, NCR said it received reliable reports of NCR and Diebold ATMs being attacked through the use of external skimming devices that hijack the cash machine’s phone or Internet jack.
“These devices are plugged into the ATM network cables and intercept customer card data. Additional devices are attached to the ATM to capture the PIN,” NCR warned. “A keyboard overlay was used to attack an NCR ATM, a concealed camera was used on the Diebold ATM. PIN data is then likely transmitted wirelessly to the skimming device.”
The ATM maker believes these attacks represent a continuation of the trend where criminals are finding alternative methods to skim magnetic strip cards. Such alternative methods avoid placing the skimmer on the ATM card entry bezel, which is where most anti-skimming technology is located.
NCR said cash machine operators must consider all points where card data may be accessible — in addition to the traditional point of vulnerability at the card entry bezel — and that having ATM network communications cables and connections exposed in publicly accessible locations only invites trouble. Continue reading →
In the previous twostories, 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.
One ATM company operating in the Cancun area whose machines were apparently free from these skimming devices is a relatively new entity called Intacash. This company’s ATMs positively blanketed many of the areas I visited, particularly in the heavy tourist and commercial areas of downtown Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. For example, in a single city block on Boulevard Kukulcan in Zona Hotelera — probably the busiest tourist spot in Cancun — I counted no fewer than ten Intacash ATMs, most of which were all less than a couple hundred yards from each another.
Intacash ATMs positively blanket the most busy area of downtown Cancun and in very tight proximity to one another.
The experts I spoke with said they were mystified by Intacash’s strategy of placing so many cash machines in the region. Even for areas like Zona Hotelera with plenty of continuous foot traffic, adding so many cash machines in such a small space produces diminishing returns.
Two different ATM experts familiar with rates charged to place ATMs in the area and who asked to remain anonymous said there is no way Intacash could afford the rent required to place so many ATMs in such close proximity on public property and still turn a monthly profit. No way, that is, unless the company had a different profit motive in mind.
Intacash is a relative newcomer to the ATM scene in Mexico, bringing its first ATMs online there a little more than a year ago. It’s not at all clear who runs or owns Intacash, and there is precious little public information available about this company.
Intacash.com, registered in early 2014, consists of just four Web pages. There is no contact information for the firm on its site, which to this day has exactly zero sites linking in to it. From its inception, the site’s registration records have been hidden behind WHOIS privacy protection services. Intacash hosts its sites along with more than 6,000 other sites on a shared server at GoDaddy.com (for security and other reasons, financial institutions and service providers more typically spring for their own, dedicated servers).
Despite the presence of nearly 70 Intacash ATMs in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and other tourist areas in the Yucatan Peninsula, this company seems to have gone out of its way not to be noticed online. What’s more, a review of the text on Intacash.com suggests that much of the Web content on the site has been copied verbatim from other sites that preceded Intacash’s existence on the Internet.
Multiple emails sent to the contact addresses and forms on Intacash’s Web site went unreturned. Intacash’s sponsor bank in Mexico – Multiva — also did not respond to messages seeking comment.
THE INTACASH CONNECTION
Why was I so keen to learn more about Intacash? My source in the ATM industry who tipped me off about the Bluetooth skimming activity showcased in the first two stories here said his technicians began receiving bribes to let strangers install skimming components inside their machines around the same time that Intacash came online in Mexico. By early this year, all of my source’s ATM technicians had reported being approached by one of two guys who were trying to buy access to ATMs. The employees who reported these incidents to my ATM industry source said the men had Eastern European accents.
Intacash.com’s home page
Several of my source’s employees later identified the men who approached them after managing to locate their profile pages on Whatsapp, a popular mobile messaging service.
“My partner was at a meeting with the operating manager of [a major hotel] in Cancun, doing his sales pitch,” my source recalled in a recent interview. “And the fellow at the hotel told my guy that just the day before he’d been approached by another ATM company, and that the guys were Eastern European.”
My source said that, when pressed, the hotel manager acknowledged that the other company was indeed Intacash. My source said his business partner happened to have bookmarked on his smartphone the Whatsapp profiles of the men who’d tried to bribe his technicians, and that he opened the profiles one by one and showed them to the hotel manager.
“My partner asked, ‘Just out of curiosity was it one of these guys?'” my source said. “The hotel manager said why, yes it was.” Continue reading →
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.
As I noted in yesterday’s story, the skimmers that this gang is placing in hacked ATMs consist of two Bluetooth components: One connected to the card reader inside each machine, and another attached to the PIN pad. Both components beacon out a Bluetooth signal called “Free2Move.” The thieves can retrieve the purloined card and PIN data just by strolling up to the hacked ATM with a smartphone, entering a secret passcode, and downloading all of the collected information.
Having found two hacked ATMs in Cancun — including one in the lobby of my hotel (the Marriott CasaMagna) — I decided to check out other tourist destinations in the region. On the way to Tulum, I dropped in at the Barcelo, a huge, all-inclusive resort. The security guards at the front gate at the resort initially prevented me from entering the complex because I didn’t have reservations.
After 10 minutes of Googling on my phone and a call to the front desk, the guards seemed satisfied that I was interested in buying a day pass to the hotel’s various facilities. The gate lifted and I was let in. Five minutes later, the very first ATM I stopped at was found to be emanating the telltale Free2Move Bluetooth signals indicating a compromise.
No sooner had I finished documenting that hacked ATM than a security guard rode up on a motorcycle and asked if I was having trouble finding the day-pass desk. I replied that I’d be headed that way shortly.
The Barcelo security guard followed me closely as I returned to my rented Jetta and drove to a different building in the complex. Multiple security guards were beginning to shadow me at a respectful distance. I decided it was best to at least demonstrate that I had an intention of buying a day pass.
The Barcelo reception desk said the price would be USD $80 per person. Feigning shock over the hefty price tag, I declared loudly that I had to hit the hotel’s ATM to withdraw more cash in order to pay such exorbitant prices. That ATM also was beaconing the Free2Move Bluetooth signal, but the ATM itself returned errors stating that it was temporarily offline and unable to dispense cash.
That outage turned out to be the perfect excuse to visit a third ATM in the complex, as I again loudly explained to the security guy following a few paces behind.By this point, a much more stern and beefy guard began following me around on foot, his walkie-talkie buzzing periodically as I crossed the hotel campus. The third and final ATM I checked also was compromised. While I was sure there were more ATMs I hadn’t checked in other areas of the resort, I decided not to press my luck, and hopped back in the Jetta and resumed my journey to Tulum.
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 I’d received from a source 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?
A sign across the street from the police department in Tulum.
After several nervous minutes of creeping traffic, I was waved on through the checkpoint and immediately felt silly for having gotten so worked up about it. However, upon my arrival 20 minutes later in Tulum — a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Mayan ruins — I would have a much closer encounter with the police.
As I pulled into the area where tour buses normally drop off passengers by the hundreds each hour, a number of men stood waving pamphlets and offering “Cheap!” parking that was anything but (or at least I thought at the time). Each was trying to direct me to park the Volkswagen in one of several large, dusty lots.
“I’ll just be about five minutes,” I said, stupidly putting the vehicle in park on the main street right in front of the tourist lot. The attendants just shook their heads and began hailing other newcomers.
The Tulum visit yielded another three ATMs within a few hundred meters of each other that were all emanating the Free2Move signal. But unfortunately, that jaunt took more than five minutes: When I returned to the Volkswagen, I found a parking ticket on the windshield and the parking attendants smirking, gleefully shouting in Spanish that I should have listened to them and parked in their lot.Continue reading →
-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?
The above paragraph is an excerpt that I pulled from the body of Part II in this series of articles and video essays stemming from a recent four-day trip to Mexico. During that trip, I found at least 19 different ATMs that all apparently had been hacked from the inside and retrofitted with tiny, sophisticated devices that store and transmit stolen card data and PINs wirelessly.
In June 2015, I heard from a source at an ATM firm who wanted advice and help in reaching out to the right people about what he described as an ongoing ATM fraud campaign of unprecedented sophistication, organization and breadth. Given my focus on ATM skimming technology and innovations, I was immediately interested.
My source asked to have his name and that of his employer omitted from the story because he fears potential reprisals from the alleged organized criminal perpetrators of this scam. According to my source, several of his employer’s ATM installation and maintenance technicians in the Cancun area reported recently being approached by men with Eastern European accents, asking each tech if he would be interested in making more than 100 times his monthly salary just for providing direct, physical access to the inside of a single ATM that the technician served.
One of my source’s co-workers was later found to have accepted the bribes, which apparently had only grown larger and more aggressive after technicians in charge of specific, very busy ATMs declined an initial offer.
My source said his company fired the rogue employee who’d taken the bait, but that the employee’s actions had still been useful because experts were now able to examine the skimming technology first-hand. The company tested the hardware by installing it into ATMs that were not in service. When they turned the devices on, they discovered each component was beaconing out the same Bluetooth signal: “Free2Move.”
Turns out, Free2Move is the default name for a bluetooth beacon in a component made by a legitimate wireless communications company of the same name. I also located a sales thread in a dubious looking site that specializes in offering this technology in mini form for ATM PIN pads and card readers for $550 per component (although the site claims it won’t sell the products to scammers).
The Bluetooth circuit boards allegedly supplied by the Eastern Europeans who bribed my source’s technician were made to be discretely wired directly onto the electronic ATM circuit boards which independently serve the machine’s debit card reader and PIN pad.
Each of the bluetooth circuit boards are tiny — wafer thin and about 1 cm wide by 2 cm long. Each also comes with its own data storage device. Stolen card data can be retrieved from the bluetooth components wirelessly: The thief merely needs to be within a few meters of the compromised ATM to pull stolen card data and PINs off the devices, providing he has the secret key needed to access that bluetooth wireless connection.
Even if you knew the initial PIN code to connect to the Bluetooth wireless component on the ATM —the stolen data that is sent by the bluetooth components is encrypted. Decrypting that data requires a private key that ostensibly only the owners of this crimeware possess.
These are not your ordinary skimming devices. Most skimmers are detectable because they are designed to be affixed to the outside of the ATMs. But with direct, internal access to carefully targeted cash machines, the devices could sit for months or even years inside of compromised ATMs before being detected (depending in part on how quickly and smartly the thieves used or sold the stolen card numbers and PINs).
Not long after figuring out the scheme used by this skimmer, my source instructed his contacts in Cancun and the surrounding area to survey various ATMs in the region to see if any of these machines were emitting a Bluetooth signal called “Free2Move.” Sure enough, the area was blanketed with cash machines spitting out Free2Move signals.
Going to the cops would be useless at best, and potentially dangerous; Mexico’s police force is notoriously corrupt, and for all my source knew the skimmer scammers were paying for their own protection from the police.
Rather, he said he wanted to figure out a way to spot compromised ATMs where those systems were deployed across Mexico (but mainly in the areas popular with tourists from Europe and The United States).
When my source said he knew where I could obtain one of these skimmers in Mexico firsthand, I volunteered to scour the tourist areas in and around Cancun to look for ATMs spitting out the Free2Move bluetooth signal.
I’d worked especially hard the previous two months: So much so that July and August were record traffic months for KrebsOnSecurity, with several big breach stories bringing more than a million new readers to the site. It was time to schedule a quasi-vacation, and this was the perfect excuse. I had a huge pile of frequent flier miles burning a hole in my pocket, and I wasted no time in using those miles to book a hotel and flight to Cancun. Continue reading →
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.
The insert skimmer pictured below was recently pulled from an ATM in Europe. According to a report by the European ATM Security Team (EAST), this type of device is inserted through the card reader throat and then sits inside the card reader capturing the data of cards that are subsequently inserted.
An insert skimmer. Image: EAST.
Of course, an insert skimmer alone isn’t going to capture your PIN. For that, thieves typically rely on cleverly hidden tiny cameras. Often, the spy camera is tucked inside a false panel above or directly beside the PIN pad. But as I’ve noted in stories about skimming attacks that never touch the ATM (such as vestibule door skimmers), crooks often get very creative, hiding cameras behind things like convex mirrors — or even phony fire alarms.
The image below was captured last year by a U.S.-based bank’s own ATM security camera. It shows a skimmer scammer getting ready to install a tiny camera hidden inside of a fake fire alarm.
Hidden cameras made to work in tandem with skimming devices need not be hidden on the compromised ATM itself.
Fraud experts in Mexico have discovered an unusual ATM skimming device that can be inserted into the mouth of the cash machine’s card acceptance slot and used to read data directly off of chip-enabled credit or debit cards.
The device pictured below is a type of skimmer known as a “shimmer,” so named because it acts a shim that sits between the chip on the card and the chip reader in the ATM — recording the data on the chip as it is read by the ATM.
This card ‘shimming’ device is made to read chip-enabled cards and can be inserted directly into the ATM’s card acceptance slot.
The chip reading component includes the eight gold rectangular leads seen on the right side of this device; the electronics that power the data storage on the shimmer can be seen in black at the top of the image.
According to information from Damage Control S.A., a security and investigations company based in Mexico, this device was found inside a Diebold Opteva 520 with Dip reader (the kind of card reader that requires you to briefly insert your card and then quickly remove it). The device is inserted from the outside of the ATM and no access is required to the ATM internals. Damage Control, which disseminated the information via a service called CrimeDex, didn’t say whether this shimmer was accompanied by a component to steal card PINs, such as a hidden camera or PIN pad overlay.
Here’s a look at what this thing looks like while it’s sitting inside a compromised ATM’s reader (notice how the chip-reading components shown in the first image are obscured in this one by the ATM’s chip reader): Continue reading →