All ATMs can be hijacked with malware, Kaspersky says

binary on a screen with words 'hacking attack'

ATMs can be easily hacked and malware installed, meaning funds could be stolen, a report by Kaspersky Labs has revealed.

The company identified two key hardware flaws with the ATMs it researched - the fact that the computer inside the machine can be easily accessed and once hackers manage to reach the PC, they are running outdated systems, so can be easily infected.

"The results of our research show that even though vendors are now trying to develop ATMs with strong security features, many banks are still using old insecure models," Olga Kochetova, security expert at Kaspersky Lab's Penetration Testing department said.

"This makes them unprepared for criminals actively challenging the security of these devices. This is today's reality that causes banks and their customers huge financial losses."

Many ATMs studied by Kaspersky were running Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Microsoft. This means their security isn't up to date and malicious malware can be installed without too much effort.

Additionally, in the majority of cases, Kaspersky explained, the ATMs use software based on the XFS standard for communication between banking infrastructure and hardware units to process cash and credit cards. This is an old standard that doesn't require authorisation for the commands it sends, so any malware used to track transactions can obtain information including PIN numbers or it can give away all the money in the ATM.

However, malware doesn't need to be used in order to hack cash machines. Criminals can also install a programmed microcomputer inside the ATM, which could connect it to a rogue processing centre. This means a hacker could give their own commands to the ATM, which it will then obey.

"From our perspective, this is the result of a longtime misbelief that cybercriminals are only interested in cyber-attacks against Internet banking," Kochetova added. "They are interested in these attacks, but also increasingly see the value in exploiting ATM vulnerabilities because a direct attack against such devices significantly shortens their route to real money,"

Clare Hopping
Freelance writer

Clare is the founder of Blue Cactus Digital, a digital marketing company that helps ethical and sustainability-focused businesses grow their customer base.

Prior to becoming a marketer, Clare was a journalist, working at a range of mobile device-focused outlets including Know Your Mobile before moving into freelance life.

As a freelance writer, she drew on her expertise in mobility to write features and guides for ITPro, as well as regularly writing news stories on a wide range of topics.