Hackers Program ATMs To Dole Out Cash: Cybercriminals Exploit Vulnerable Cash Dispensing Machines Running Antiquated Software?

Cybercriminals are now targeting entire banking networks instead of individual accounts. Hackers have successfully tricked several ATMs into emptying their stash of currency notes without using any credit or debit card. The FBI has confirmed it is monitoring reports about such synchronized cyber-attacks that might intend to target the U.S. financial sector.

After recent cyber-attacks targeting Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in Taiwan and Thailand, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cautioned American banks and financial institutions that similar attacks might soon happen on their systems and machines. According to international reports, cybercriminals have so far managed to withdraw millions in foreign currency by tricking the ATMs.

Reports indicate organized gang members merely surround ATMs at a predetermined hour, collect the cash that the machines spew out in one go, and make away with millions of dollars’ worth of currency without even touching the machine or inserting any debit or credit card. It is apparent the criminals are no longer attempting to con unsuspecting citizens and stealing their hard earned cash by making copies of their credit cards.

Instead of attempting to dupe several small accounts, the hackers are now going straight to the source. Reports suggest criminals with knowledge of banking systems, and more specifically, how the ATMs operate, are inserting malicious code within the Operating System (OS) that triggers multiple ATMs to spit out cash at a preset time. Gang members merely stand by in anticipation to collect the bills, reported The Next Web.

How do the cybercriminals operate? The FBI has learned that it was a Russian gang, known as Buhtrap, that developed the software. Cyber security agencies believe these gangs perfected their software by targeting small Russian banks. Once the software was able to compromise the security of the ATMs, the gangs gradually expanded their operations to other countries.

The cybercriminals look for virtual weaknesses in digital systems that process transactions on banking payment networks. However, banks routinely outsource the job of ATM maintenance, including cash handling, to a third party. The hackers have been known to have hit such ATM networks that are managed by third-party agencies.

Banks became aware of the crime after reports started pouring in about loose currency lying unclaimed on the floor. The currency notes lying scattered in cabins that house ATMs raised suspicion, and forced the banks to launch an internal investigation. When the banks complained to the police, the sheer enormity of the crime began to surface. Initially, the police were baffled because “ATMs were abnormally spitting out bills.”

The epicenter of the crimes might have been Russia, but cybercriminals were found to be active in Taiwan and Thailand. Experts believe the cities were primarily targeted because they are always teeming with foreigners on vacation. The bustling cities offer several ways to grab the cash and escape through the many lanes and crowded intersections. According to Taipei’s police, cyber thieves have managed to steal more than $300 million.

So far, the criminals have managed to compromise PC1500 ATMs, built by Wincor Nixdorf AG of Germany, reported The Wall Street Journal. Surprisingly, law enforcement officials believe the cybercriminals managed to compromise the ATMs by sending fraudulent “phishing” emails disguised to look like messages from ATM vendors or other banks, reported Security Newspaper.

While banks and financial institutions in the United States are believed to be better protected, as well as more regularly updated, the ATMs are often run on antiquated software. Since updating the OS and other security measures on the ATMs is a very time consuming and expensive affair, they are usually one of the last devices to undergo a digital overhaul. However, given the rising number of cyber attacks that are targeting the banks directly, the financial institutions could soon expedite the process to better protect their ATMs and backend banking process.

[Featured Image by Milos Bicanski/Getty Images]