You could lose cash at hacked ATMs

2014-05-05 13:09
ATM. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

ATM. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Most South Africans happily insert their bank cards into ATMs and withdraw cash, but this ordinary activity may carry an unseen risk.

According to research from a security company, it may be possible to have malware installed in ATMs that may compromise the cash machines.

The vulnerability was observed with mobile point of sale (MPOS) machines which is used by a number of businesses to process card payments.

"Similarly to our previous research where the VeriFone devices were compromised using malicious smart cards, the attack against the MPOS device leveraged the fact that the Payment Card Industry Pin Transaction Security (PCI-PTS) do not adequately cover the applications that run on the devices," Harry Grobbelaar, director for MWR InfoSecurity told New24.

He said that the security protocols on these devices still vulnerabilities that criminals could exploit.


In 2013, a banking scam hit a number of business that employ MPOS machine when it was reported that the devices were infected with malware known as Dexter.

Dexter was used to gather customer information and sold to other criminals.

"Immediate and pro-active steps have been taken by Standard Bank and at an industry level to identify and limit the extent of the potential exposure," said Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom at the time.

Reports suggest that around R100m was lost to thieves who targeted the point of sale machines commonly used in restaurants.

Grobbelaar said that the vulnerability in MPOS machines could extend to ATMs because of the similarity in the hardware used to identify the cards.

"Given this fact, it seems very possible that the same type of attack could be executed against an ATM's PIN Entry device (as they are typically also certified with the same standard)."

While he conceded that they have not been able to verify the theory on a modern ATM, the hack is possible but banking groups are reluctant to make the machine available for testing.

Most ATMs run the Windows XP operating system and given that Microsoft has ended support for the OS, hackers could potentially exploit new vulnerabilities, known as zero days.

Grobbelaar said that if an ATM were to be compromised with malware, the fact that people trust the platform will make it difficult to explain in the event of a dispute.

"As PINs are usually seen as a secret, users who enter their PIN into such a compromised device may have a hard time to explain to the bank how someone compromised their PIN and they always covered their hand, never gave it out."

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