ATM surveillance: Preserving the ATM, protecting the customer

June 19, 2015

by Pietro Tonussi, Business Development Manager Banking for Southern Europe, Axis Communications

In an increasingly technological world, where financial transactions can be made via a smartphone or a simple Internet connection — or with traditional credit cards, debit cards or other electronic systems — we still feel the need to pay with cash. And as demand for cash grows, so too grows the demand for more cash outlets — mostly in the form of ATMs.

More ATMs means more cash in circulation and, consequently, greater risk not only to the money itself, but also for customers and for everything that relates to cash withdrawal from ATMs.

According to data from the Italian Banking Association Research Center on Security Anticrime, the number of predatory crimes is in fact growing, as demonstrated by the high number of complaints to judicial authorities of thefts (up 2.2 percent) and robberies (up 2.6 percent) in 2014 compared with 2013

The other important factor is that attacks on ATMs are increasing: In only the first nine months of 2014, 433 incidents were registered, compared with 321 in 2013, representing an increase of 34.9 percent. Moreover, these criminal acts represent approximately 80 percent of total attacks, demonstrating how ATMs have become criminals’ first absolute target, primarily due to their function as dispensers of cash.

Types of attacks

Types of attacks on ATMs can be divided into two main categories: those that are 'physical', where criminals intervene directly on the ATM; and the 'software' type, such as phishing.

Attacks on ATMs also can be categorized depending on their location: on-site, near the agency or in a freestanding ATM, normally adjacent to the local branch office; or off-site, installed in shopping centers, airports, stations and the like. The latter are the most prone to vandalism of all types.

We must also consider the impact on the cardholder who endures, for example, a robbery while withdrawing cash. It is essential to safeguard the security of the individual, while at the same time respecting his or her privacy.

IP video surveillance as a solution

According to a 2014 survey conducted by the ATM Industry Association, there is a growing awareness among managers responsible for banking security of the importance of technological solutions such as IP video surveillance in addressing the problem of attacks on ATMs.

Among IP cameras that can make a major contribution to the banking world, there are those for area control, which give image quality and supervision on a 180-degree basis — their strong point — as well as those that can be installed anywhere near or in an ATM — such as the super-compact pinhole size — and with high performance HDTV video.

Network video systems, further to high quality video surveillance, can improve customer safety and service, and can facilitate various activities while optimizing costs. Surveillance of the entire area surrounding the door with the use of panoramic 360-degree cameras supplemented by a single area camera, eliminates blind corners.

An HDTV camera with a pinhole lens, mounted inside an ATM and installed properly, can ensure a high detail of the scene inside the ATM with exceptional image quality, even in difficult ambient lighting conditions, such as in the presence of large windows or entrances with glass doors and polished floors.

The first cameras used for area control generate an overview, while the second captures details, achieving an ideal break-even between privacy and safety of the customer.

In addition, these cameras offer the considerable advantage of being able to be integrated with alarm systems and access control, even remotely, for a comprehensive and efficient security platform.

The cost of cost avoidance

While installing further technology in existing plants might be perceived as an additional cost, the fact is that when criminals attack an ATM, the bank deals with costs that are much higher. What is more, these costs are not only for the damaged ATM, but also, potentially, for  damage to the structure of the building that houses it, as well as injuries to passers-by or even the victimization of the bank's own customers.

If a customer is subjected to a robbery while withdrawing cash from an ATM, that branch will not suffer direct damage but will have lost a customer who no longer feels safe carrying out this simple task. The emotional impact on the customer might be even more serious because it will affect the level of "customer dissatisfaction", an element which, in future, a bank will have to take more and more into consideration to provide a good quality oservice and to improve customer safety.

An ounce of algorithm ...

Another fairly typical scenario is that of a user who goes to a free-standing ATM and wants to withdraw cash: Here, there are two possible situations that can cause direct or indirect damage to the bank.

Let us start from the first: The customer might find a homeless person within the free-standing ATM who has chosen to sleep in this place because it offers shelter from the weather outside. The result is that the customer will not enter because it does not feel safe, thus creating indirect damage to the bank.

Now, let us imagine that a person enters the area of the free-standing ATM and feels suddenly ill, falling to the ground: Without an adequate video surveillance system, the bank is not able to ensure the safety of the customer in the best way direct damage.

These two different situations exemplify how, thanks to intelligent algorithms that detect the presence of a man on the ground, it is possible to determine whether a man is in a horizontal position because he is sleeping or because he feels ill. The bank has at hand a useful solution to ensure the presence of safety and security.

The same analytics that banks might use in order to limit a possible problem in an enclosed ATM kiosk can also be used in free-standing ATM areas. Thanks to anti-tampering alarms and the detection capability of objects — as well as applications such as the one just mentioned — analytics also can enable the quick identification of potential activities of skimming and trapping of banknotes and cards or other criminal activities.

Understanding attack pathologies

With cameras, one can perform a behavioral analysis
to identify gestures that indicate a possible attack.

And when attacks occur with explosive gases or other burglary tools? Even in this case, IP video surveillance can be useful to the bank.

Let us consider what happens in these attacks, and the behavior of criminals who carry them out, in order to understand how technology can solve this problem. Certainly, a criminal who wants to blow up a safe will not have the same calm attitude as a person who simply wants to withdrawcash.

With cameras, one can achieve a behavioral analysis because there is always a certain excitement in the gestures related to these attacks: Analytics can precisely detect such movements, thus offering the possibility of triggering almost immediate action to intervene in a potential criminal act or to report a potential suspect case.

In terms of physical attacks, one should in every case make more use of deterrence for preventive purposes, which can be obtained in two ways: 1) with cameras located in the area outside of the ATM, which may deter criminals from certain actions; and especially 2) with cameras that can also be used inside the ATM to analyze scenes that may be suspicious, for example, relating to people who have made one or more visits in the days prior to the attack on the ATM.

Customer safety: Never an acceptable tradeoff

If we analyze the data on ATM attacks, it is apparent that despite the importance of IP video surveillance in preventing and ensuring the safety of ATMs and branches in general, they are still not frequently used in a capillary manner. But while financial institutions certainly must make comparisons between investments and cost containment, they also must account for a third element in making decisions of this kind — the safety of the customer, who every day uses the services that the bank offers.


Topics: ATM Management, Bank / Credit Union, Components, Enclosures / Surrounds, Security


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