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. Continue reading →