Reverse Engineering An ATM Card Skimmer

While vacationing in Bali, [Matt South] walked into a nice, secure, air-conditioned cubicle housing an ATM. Knowing card skimmers are the bane of every traveller, [Matt] did the sensible thing and jiggled the card reader and the guard that hides your PIN when punching it into the numeric keypad. [Matt] found the PIN pad shield came off very easily and was soon the rightful owner of a block of injection molded plastic, a tiny camera, and a few bits of electronics.

The first thing that tipped [Matt] off to the existence of electronics in this brick of plastic was a single switch and a port with four contacts. These four pins could be anything, but guessing it was USB [Matt] eventually had access to a drive filled with 11GB of video taken from inside this PIN pad shield.

An investigation of the videos and the subsequent teardown of the device itself revealed exactly what you would expect. A tiny pinhole camera, probably taken from a ‘spy camera’ device, takes video whenever movement is detected. Oddly, there’s an audio track to these videos, but [Matt] says that makes sense; the scammers can hear the beeps made by the ATM with every keypress and correlate them to each button pressed.

Of course, the black hats behind this skimmer need two things: the card number, and the PIN. This tiny spy cam only gets the PIN, and there wasn’t a device over or in the card slot in the ATM. How did the scammers get the card number, then? Most likely, the thieves are getting the card number by sniffing the ATM’s connection to the outside world. It’s a bit more complex than sticking a magnetic card reader over the ATM’s card slot, but it’s harder to detect.

47 thoughts on “Reverse Engineering An ATM Card Skimmer

  1. “[Matt] did the sensible thing and jiggled the card reader and the guard that hides your PIN when punching it into the numeric keypad.” Brian Krebs would be proud.

      1. shodan isn’t sh1t of all devices. good encryption will solve 99% of shodan crap. That said battery life with even a bulk GSM or 3g upload will cripple it when you can have a crack mug rip it back off for you. P.S got a good connection with a reasonable packet limit? you can scan 1000 ports on all IP’s in under a week, screw the dan of sho

      2. SHODAN’s not some magic tyrannical AI that can get passed any password. IP cameras aren’t instantly vulnerable. Just don’t use the default password and you’re for the better part dandy.

  2. its possible this particular ATM had a card reader skimmer attached to it but the card reader skimmer is now gone (e.g. removed by the crooks at some point without removing the hidden camera, removed by the bank/by the cops, removed by someone else who found it randomly)

    One thing I have seen from some banks that I really like (e.g. the Commonwealth Bank here in Australia) is the ability to withdraw money without using your card. You go to the mobile banking app on your phone and access the feature which then gives you one code on your device screen and another code sent to you via SMS. Then you activate the “cardless cash” feature on the ATM and input both codes and you get money without ever inserting your card so no risk of card/pin number skimming.

    No security problems since the codes are one-time-use-only and are only valid for a short period of time (and people using the feature are likely to do it when they are near the ATM) so there is no risk if an attacker somehow steals the codes as they get input into the ATM and there is very little risk even if a hacker is able to steal the codes somehow before they get used.

    Oh and the feature is protected by the same internet baking security as everything else which means any attacker who can get into the internet baking app and use the feature can just as easily use a direct bank transfer to transfer the funds out to another account and not need to actually go to an ATM to do it)

    1. The rumors are that big banks here in the US are working on Apple/Android pay integration with ATMs rather than adding chip readers. That’s a step in the right direction. I boldly predict that by the time my child has children that those kids will get credit cards without a magnetic stripe on the back at all.

      1. In europe, a lot of cards already lost their magnetic strip…
        we use a chip…. (not swipable, but still skimmable by introducing a stealth chip reader) however: copying the card is near impossible

    1. Or a police officer/bank employee happen to arrive at that exact moment. Being caught taking the skimmers might not be great. A best practice if you’re not planning to reverse engineer the hardware would be to call the bank right there from the ATM if possible. That way you aren’t caught taking it, and the crook won’t come recover it when you go for assistance.

      1. The good news is that bank ATMs are under video surveillance. When they review the footage, they’ll hopefully notice that you aren’t the same guy that stuck it on there in the first place.

          1. This /\ i agree
            If I suspected a device that didn’t belong there, I’m not touching it. Call the cops or the bank. Last thing I want is someone claiming that I’m part of the problem. I’ve never seen a skimmer but the bank once sent me a new card because an ATM at a 7/11 was ‘compromised’.

    2. Talking about this i wonder if it’s a good idea to publish his teardown on his own blog with his full name…
      I wouldn’t have touched this thing, just call the bank or maybe the police.

    3. I’d do what he did and show it being dragged out and waved about unlike an organisation that’ll pocket it right after if you watch the video on link. Then you get to break funny hardware apart. If you informed the police they’d just write up a paragraph and bin it

  3. Seriously, are people using cash anymore?

    But on a more sincere note, magstripe cards are way to weak. Here (Scandinavia) chip has been required for many years, and last year they even stopped having magstripe on cards as default (though you can still get one if you need it). EMV rollout in some parts of the world has gone at a glacial pace (yes, I’m looking at you America!) and has been a serious hinderance for updating payment cards to new and more secure technologies.

    Which might be the explanation why he saw no card reader, they were content with getting the pin, the card would be “acquired” through other means.

    1. >Seriously, are people using cash anymore?
      Using a paycard (what’s the right word?) produces a lot of data. If you worry about NSA and other criminals cash is a really god thing…

    2. Cash is easier to use when the power goes out. I used to carry less than 50 bucks at a time but on February the power was out for a week! Otherwise, I do use bank card for most everything except some stores that I don’t trust. I do wonder if someday the bank network or internet fails and the more complex systems will not work. So, cash on hand just in case.

  4. Air-conditioned booth without surveillance camera, ATM without surveillance camera, bank that doesn’t give a shit about their users being robbed … pretty place that Indonesia.

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