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Let's Talk About Making ATMs More Secure


We’ve all read the news: in our increasingly digital, electronic world, it seems like every day brings a new breach, threat, or vulnerability. As consumers and businesses trade off between security and convenience, it’s easy to lose sight of what we can do to minimize or eliminate risks.

As a case-in-point, let’s take ATMs. Millions of these machines are deployed worldwide in banks, businesses, and stand-alone locations. ATMs are full of money and protected by electronic interfaces, so it’s no wonder hackers see them as a prime target.

For the past several years, we’ve seen two kinds of attacks growing in popularity and sophistication. The first, “jackpotting,” takes advantage of unsecured top sections of the machine. The second, side-channel attacks, exploit vulnerabilities in the locks that secure ATM vaults.

Both types of attacks result in serious losses for ATM owners and operators. And both types of attacks are avoidable.

While no security solution can guarantee 100% protection, a few design changes could significantly reduce ATM vulnerabilities to jackpotting and side-channel attacks.

First, a simple design change.
In response to the latest publicized side-channel attack, which reported gaining access to ATM locks in as little as five minutes, S&G’s engineering team conducted vulnerability testing to identify where locks might fail in the face of this type of attack. What we found might surprise you: many ATM locks leave connection points immediately accessible, not stored inside the lock. Using a tamper-resistant, solid ring design instead could deter the vast majority of side-channel attacks by making it more time-consuming and difficult for hackers to gain initial access to the lock’s electronics.
Then, a security fix.
For years, ATM owners and operators have secured their ATM vaults with high-security locks but left the top of the machine protected only by the customer-facing computer. These units, which often run on older software, are prime targets for hackers. Gaining easy access through the computer, hackers then jackpot the ATM because the hood itself is not locked. Installing a lock in the hood that routes through the same access point as the vault would protect the ATM from jackpotting and increase an operator’s ability to manage ATM access for approved personnel.
Next, a look at networking.
Another aspect of side-channel attacks involves access codes. In some ATM locks, these static codes are stored in the lock itself in certain operating modes without requiring touch key authentication—an oversight that allows hackers to gain quick and easy access to encryption routines. We recommend removing those codes from ATM locks, and implementing multiple layers of authentication including one-time codes, time windows, and touch keys to deter random code generating attempts.
We can’t guarantee ATM security, but we can go a lot farther toward protecting it.
You can read S&G’s vulnerability testing report online for more details. At S&G, we’re working hard to be responsive to threats as they emerge, and engineering solutions that continue to improve security.
Devon Ratliff
Director of Engineering, Sargent and Greenleaf


ATM Security