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Security & privacy

Hackers are now controlling ATMs with tools worth as little as $15

ATMs have always been convenient, which is great. When you need cash, you just drive up or walk up to a machine, stick in your card and type in a few keys. Seconds later, $20 bills are dispensed right into your hands.

Unfortunately, ATMs have always been a little creepy, too. There’s the uneasiness of going to an isolated machine full of cash. Have you ever taken money out at night? You can’t shake that feeling that a criminal is lurking in the shadows.

These days, ATMs are also vulnerable to hacker attacks. We’ve told you about hacks where criminals steal your money and the secret PIN you use to access your account. In fact, we recently told you about criminals recording you as you type in your information at an ATM. They do it from a pinhead-sized hole.

Now, hackers have a new way to steal thousands of dollars from ATMs. Worse, all it takes is about $15 worth of equipment you probably have in your garage. They need patience to pull off this crime, but not much in the way of sophisticated computer skills.

How criminals are stealing from ATMs

Here’s how it works. Criminals walk up to an ATM and drill a hole in it. It’s about the size of a golf ball and it’s close to the keyboard. It’s small enough that they can cover the hole with a sticker.

They attach a home-made circuit board to a 10-pin header in the ATM. That’s attached to a bus that controls all parts of the ATM. On some machines, there isn’t much advanced security, like encryption.

The device they build to access the ATMs is made of a 9-volt battery, a microcontroller, an adapter and a few other common items.

Once in, the criminals use their contraption to prompt the ATM to dispense cash. On some machines, the crime triggers it to reboot. However, the criminals can just go back to that ATM after the reboot to steal more money.

Additionally, since this technique can spoof commands and send them to another part of the system as if they’re coming from the ATM’s trusted computer, this could potentially be a way to pilfer banking data such as customer information and PIN codes.

This crime is likely spreading. It has been reported in Europe and Russia.

If you’re worried that your money will be stolen, contact your bank. Make sure your money is insured and make sure they’re using up-to-date ATMs and security to keep your cash safe.

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