Kaspersky Lab experts reveal why ATM obey hacker commands

According to a recent research conducted by Kaspersky Lab experts, an ATM can easily be jacked through use of outdated and insecure software, mistakes in network configuration, and a lack of physical security for critical parts of the ATM.

In an effort to map all ATM security issues, Kaspersky Lab penetration testing specialists have conducted research based on the investigation of real attacks, and on the results of ATM security assessments for several international banks.

As a result of the research, the experts have demonstrated that malware attacks against ATMs are possible due to two main security issues:

1. All ATMs are PCs running on very old versions of operation systems such as  Windows XP. This makes them vulnerable to infection with PC malware and attack via exploits. In the vast majority of cases, the special software that allows the ATM’s PC to interact with banking infrastructure and hardware units, processing cash and credit cards, is based on XFS standard. This a rather old and insecure technology specification, originally created in order to standardize ATM software, so that it can work on any equipment regardless of manufacturer.

The problem is that XFS specification requires no authorization for the commands it processes, meaning that any app installed or launched on the ATM can issue commands to any other ATM hardware units, including the card reader and cash dispenser.

Should malware successfully infect an ATM, it receives almost unlimited capabilities in terms of control over that ATM: it can turn the PIN pad and card reader into a “native” skimmer or just give away all the money stored in the ATM, upon a command from its hacker.

2. Physical security. In many cases observed by Kaspersky Lab researchers, criminals don’t have to use malware to infect the ATM or the network of the bank it’s attached to. That is possible because of the lack of physical security for the ATMs themselves – a very common issue for these devices. Very often ATMs are constructed and installed in a way that means a third-party can easily gain access to the PC inside the ATM, or to the network cable connecting the machine to the Internet. By gaining even partial physical access to the ATM, criminals potentially can: Install specially programmed microcomputer (a so called black box) inside the ATM, which will give attackers remote access to the ATM; reconnect the ATM to a rogue processing center.

How to stop ATM jackpotting
Although the security issues listed above most probably affect a lot of ATMs around the world, it doesn’t mean that the situation cannot be fixed. ATM manufacturers can reduce the risk of attack on cash machines by applying the following measures:
●    Firstly, it is necessary to revise the XFS standard with an emphasis on safety, and introduce two-factor authentication between devices and legitimate software. This will help reduce the likelihood of unauthorized money withdrawals using trojans and attackers gaining direct control over ATM units.
●    Secondly, it is necessary to implement “authenticated dispensing” to exclude the possibility of attacks via fake processing centers.
●    Thirdly, it is necessary to implement cryptographic protection and integrity control over the data transmitted between all hardware units and the PCs inside ATMs.

Read more about security issues of modern ATMs in the article by Olga Kochetova on Securelist.com.