Security Experts:

New Strain of ATM Jackpotting Malware Discovered

A new type of ATM jackpotting malware has been discovered. Dubbed ATMJackpot, the malware appears to be still under development, and to have originated in Hong Kong. There are no current details of any deployment or use.

ATMJackpot was discovered and analyzed by Netskope Threat Research Labs. It has a smaller footprint than earlier strains of jackpotting malware, but serves the same purpose: to steal money from automated teller machines (ATMs).

ATM jackpotting -- also known as a logical attack -- is the use of malware to control cash dispensing from individual ATMs. The malware can be delivered locally to each ATM via a USB port, or remotely by compromising the ATM operator network.

Jackpotting has become an increasing problem in recent years, originally and primarily in Europe and Asia. In 2017, Europol warned that ATM attacks were increasing. "The malware being used has evolved significantly and the scope and scale of the attacks have grown proportionately," said Steven Wilson, head of Europol's EC3 cybercrime center.

The first attacks against ATMs in the U.S. were discovered in January 2018 following an alert issued by the Secret Service. In March 2018, the alleged leader of the Carbanak group was arrested in Spain. Carbanak is believed to have stolen around $1.24 million over the preceding years. Its method was to compromise the servers controlling ATM networks by spear-phishing bank employers, and then use foot soldiers (mules) to collect money dispensed from specific ATMs at specific times.

It is not clear whether the ATMJackpot malware discovered by Netskope is intended to be manually installed via USB on individual ATMs, or downloaded from a compromised network. Physical installation on an ATM is not always difficult. In July 2017, IOActive described how its researchers could gain access to the Diebold Opteva ATM. It was achieved by inserting a metal rod through a speaker hole and raising a metal locking bar. From there they were able to reverse engineer software to get access to the money vault.

Jackpotting malware is designed to avoid the need to physically break into the vault. It can be transferred via a USB port to the computer part of the ATM that controls the vault. Most ATMs use a version of Windows that is well understood by criminals. ATMJackpot malware first registers the windows class name 'Win' with a procedure for the malware activity. 

The malware then populates the options on the window and initiates a connection with the XFS manager. The XFS subsystem provides a common API to access and manipulate the ATM devices from different vendors. The malware then opens a session with the service providers and registers to monitor events. It opens a session with the cash dispenser, the card reader and the PIN pad service providers.

It is then able to monitor events and issue commands. It can read data from the PIN pad, dispense cash, and eject cards.

Whether ATMJackpot will be used in earnest is not yet known. Nevertheless, it is a new example of the malware used in a growing problem -- stealing money from the world's automated teller machines.

Los Altos, CA-based Netskope is a cloud access security broker (CASB). Founded in 2012, it announced an oversubscribed Series E funding round that raised $100 million in June 2017, bringing the total raised by the company to $231.4 million.

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Kevin Townsend is a Senior Contributor at SecurityWeek. He has been writing about high tech issues since before the birth of Microsoft. For the last 15 years he has specialized in information security; and has had many thousands of articles published in dozens of different magazines – from The Times and the Financial Times to current and long-gone computer magazines.