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ATM Jackpotting Attacks Strike in U.S.

Hackers have been targeting automated teller machines (ATMs) in the United States to make them spill out cash using an attack technique known as “jackpotting.”

Hackers have been targeting automated teller machines (ATMs) in the United States to make them spill out cash using an attack technique known as “jackpotting.”

As part of the attacks, individuals with physical access to the machines connect to them and “install malware, or specialized electronics, or a combination of both to control the operations of the ATM,” The United States Secret Service revealed in a warning issued on Friday.

The attackers targeted stand-alone ATMs located in pharmacies, big box retailers, and drive thru ATMs, the alert reads. Both individual suspects and large organized groups (both local and international organized crime syndicates) are engaged in such attacks.

“The Secret Service recently obtained credible information about planned jackpotting attacks in the U.S. through partners of our Electronic Crimes Task Force (ECTF). Subsequently, we alerted other law enforcement partners and financial institutions who could potentially be impacted by this crime,” the Secret Service warning (PDF) reads.

“The two most common ways to implement jackpotting are via Trojans and Blackbox attacks,” Sergey Golovanov, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab, explained in an email to SecurityWeek.

When performing jackpotting via Trojans, the attackers connect a flash drive or a CD-ROM to upload the malware to the ATM, or attempt to compromise the machine via the network, Golovanov said.

“The second scenario, Blackbox, assumes that third party equipment (such as a laptop, or raspberry pie) is connected to the cash dispenser, which is responsible for collecting the money and cashing it out to the client,” Golovanov continued.

These and other compromise methods were detailed by Kaspersky Lab researchers in an interview with SecurityWeek at the DefCamp conference in Bucharest late last year.

Specific protection methods exist for both jackpotting attack methods, but ultimately it’s up to the bank to implement them or not, Golovanov said.

Although they have been long observed in Europe and Asia, jackpotting attacks haven’t targeted U.S. ATM operators until earlier this month. As part of the recently observed attacks, miscreants relied on the Blackbox technique to drain the cash from the ATMs.

In addition to the Secret Service, ATM vendors such as NCR and Diebold Nixdorf also sent out alerts last week, security blogger Brian Krebs reported.

“NCR confirms the matters reported by Brian Krebs, and had previously issued its own alert and guidance on this situation. NCR regularly and actively works with our financial solutions customers to address the security and fraud issues that impact this industry,” Owen Wild, security marketing director, NCR, told SecurityWeek via email.

“NCR has received reports from the U.S Secret Service and other sources of logical (jackpot) attacks on ATMs in the US. While at present these appear focused on non-NCR ATMs, logical attacks are an industry-wide issue. This represents the first confirmed cases of losses due to logical attacks in the US,” the company’s last week alert, which was shared with SecurityWeek, reads.

The company also provided guidance on how ATM deployers could protect their machines against these attacks and mitigate any consequences.

SecurityWeek has also contacted Diebold Nixdorf for comment, but haven’t heard back yet.

In the U.S., the attackers appear to be mainly targeting the Opteva 500 and 700 series ATMs from Diebold. With the help of an endoscope, they look inside the cash machine to locate ports to connect a laptop that contains a mirror image of the ATMs operating system, Krebs reports. 

The Ploutus.D malware is also said to have been used in these attacks. Ploutus was first discovered in 2013 targeting ATMs in Mexico, and by 2014 it could also be used to withdraw cash using SMS messages.

Ploutus.D was first detailed in January last year, observed as part of attacks where money mules would open the top portion of the ATM, connect to the machine’s internals, and wait for activation codes from the actor in charge of the operation. Mainly targeting Diebold ATMs, the malware could easily be repurposed to hit machines from 40 different vendors in 80 countries.

Even unsophisticated attackers can defraud an ATM, David Vergara, Head of Global Product Marketing, VASCO Data Security, told SecurityWeek in an emailed comment. Anyone can become “a professional thief in this segment with a modest investment in cash,” Vergara says. He also urges banks to look “at and beyond reader devices and hidden cameras” when it comes to securing ATMs.

“With banks’ focus on digital channels, like ATM and mobile, to drive down costs and better serve customers, it’s no surprise that cybercrime is following. The relatively low-tech skimming attacks still represent the vast majority of ATM losses, but more coordinated attacks using physical access to the machine (i.e. master key and keyboard) along with more sophisticated malware are enabling much bigger paydays for hackers,” Vergara said.

Related: Creating ATM Botnets Not Difficult, Researchers Say

Related: New Ploutus ATM Malware Variant at Large

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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