Stealth and destruction: How to stop 2 extreme ATM threats

| by Suzanne Cluckey
Stealth and destruction: How to stop 2 extreme ATM threats

Explosives research in South Africa has helped to make ATM safes safer. photo Henco Bezuidenhout

Henco Bezuidenhout has every teenage boy's dream job: He blows up stuff for a living. But also for a purpose — to figure out how to keep other people from blowing it up. Especially ATMs.

Bezuidenhout has conducted extensive research into gas and solid explosive attacks on ATMs in his native country of South Africa, where these crimes have presented a deadly and persistent problem.

This has been due at least in part to the widespread use of commercial explosives in mining, one of South Africa's chief industries. For many criminals, step one in robbing an ATM is stealing dynamite from a mining operation.

That said, a lack of access to TNT has not prevented the migration of ATM explosive attacks to Europe and the U.K., which collectively tallied 481 of them in the first half of this year (and that's not counting one major ATM deploying country that currently is unable to report this statistic), according to the European Association for Secure Transactions.

In the webinar, TMD Global Security Director Claire Shufflebotham cited EAST statistics showing and alarming 47 percent increase in explosive attacks from 2015 to 2016.

The trend might now have made the Atlantic crossing to the U.S., traveling on to southern California, where authorities have responded to four ATM bombings carried out since April by two different attackers.

To give webinar participants some idea of the nature of these attacks, Bezuidenhout, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering, shared findings (and video, below) from his research into the velocities of various types of explosives (e.g., oxyacetylene gas, commercial and military-grade), the effects of each on various ATMs, and the comparative effectiveness — or lack of it — of various anti-explosion solutions.

Surprisingly, one of the least effective solutions to the problem of explosive attacks is a stronger safe, Shufflebotham said. She offered as an example the experience of the Netherlands, which at the time was seeing an alarming number of gas attacks. Banks switched to heavier safes to protect cash.

Criminal gangs responded with military-grade explosives that dramatically increased the danger to life and property.

Less destructive, but no less dangerous and potentially costly, is deep insert skimming, a threat that ATM operators can be oblivious to until the damage is done.

In this type of attack, a very thin skimming device is slipped into the card reader well out of sight — and out of range of anti-skimming jammers and detection devices — where it can sit for days or weeks collecting data from ATM users' cards.

Contrary to initial industry assumptions, this skimming method works on both motorized and DIP card readers, a theory that TMD tested and proved, said Tom Moore, the company's managing director for North America.

TMD's answer to deep insert skimming, the Card Protection Plate, is elegantly simple in concept and highly sophisticated in design, Moore said. The device fills excess space in the card reader, leaving room only for the skimmer or the ATM user's card, but not both.

A CPP-equipped ATM does not have enough space inside the card reader for both a deep insert skimmer and a customer card, and therefore deep insert skimming is not possible.

"This has been, without doubt, a success story in addressing fraud migration," Moore said.

Replay the webinar now

Companies: TMD Security GMBH

Suzanne Cluckey

Suzanne’s editorial career has spanned three decades and encompassed all B2B and B2C communications formats. Her award-winning work has appeared in trade and consumer media in the United States and internationally. She is now the editor of and

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