3 Jul

How secure are today's ATMs

As one of the most important necessities in our daily life, shouldn’t automated teller machines (ATMs) be well-secured and protected to avoid theft?

As ATMs become an ever-increasing presence not only for businesses but also for customers alike, ATM manufacturers must be diligent in making equipment with outstanding security features. After all, 75 percent of the US population depends on and trusts these independently owned machines to handle their money well. As such, here’s a discussion on just how secure today’s ATMs are.

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How secure are today’s ATMs?

Due to improvements in technology and manufacturing, ATM machines are not just for banks anymore. In fact, it is estimated that only 30 percent of all ATMs are found in financial institutions. The other 70 percent are now located in other public places like malls, restaurants, gas stations, airports and grocery stores. Cash is still the top commodity, and today's security standards have made ATM machines safely available for any small business that can justify the investment.

However, just as with cybercrime tactics usually deployed on the internet, ATMs themselves are also vulnerable to data-stealing methods. As such, it comes as no surprise that ATM security is constantly improving to give the highest level of protection possible for both the customer and the proprietor.

The integrity of each transaction and the safety of the funds stored inside the machine must be ensured while still allowing easy use for customers. Both physical features as well as safeguards programmed into the software help prevent breaking into the vault or stealing customers' bank information through technological means.

Technology used by ATMs

Multivendor software

The future aim for banks and ATMs is to adopt a “multivendor” software across their entire ATM network. The main initiative for choosing this option is because it can reduce costs and increase revenue, allowing any ATM network to become more streamlined and offer complete personalization in accordance with the highest industry standards.

Wi-Fi for ATMs

Another way in which ATM's are progressing is adopting wireless connectivity in both 3G and 4G. As customers are always on the move, wireless ATMs are being deployed to reach them. It’s both efficient and convenient as customers now have the freedom to transact wherever they might be.

Reinventing ATM industry standards

An industry standard has been designated by Underwriters Laboratories for ATM security, which is also referred to as UL 291. This standard specifies that models designed to store cash only during business hours be able to withstand a physical attack of at least five minutes' duration, allowing time for store personnel to notify police. These UL 291 compliant models weigh in at about 250 pounds.

An 800-pound model that can withstand a 30-minute attack and includes a vault-class safe meets the requirements to be designated as UL 291 Level 1. Also called 24-hour safes, these ATMs are capable of holding cash unattended after business hours.

All units offer either combination or electronic locks. Although they are more expensive, electronic locks add an extra measure of safety because access codes can be changed if need be and a five-minute delayed access sequence can be added.

Other important security features in ATMs

Most units feature a removable and reloadable cash cassette that can be refilled and serviced in a secure area. Larger cash cassettes are also available to minimize the frequency of reloading. Exploding dye packs are a common feature that can be added to the cash cassette. The dye pack marks any bills in the cassette in the event of tampering or theft. For further protection, GPS units can also be installed. This will allow tracking of the machine in case it is stolen.

Manufacturers recommend installing an ATM unit by attaching it securely to a surface. Ideally, it should be bolted to a cement floor. A surveillance camera is also recommended to deter or pursue any criminal activity.

Customer safety and trust are a high priority. In the interest of ATM fraud prevention, all new ATM machines must be Triple Data Encryption Standard (DES) compliant. This is a government-recognized, industry-wide encryption standard now required on all new machines to protect the public's personal identification numbers. New machines have also gone to a dip-style card reader in place of the older technology where the personal I.D. card was pulled into the machine for processing. Both of these new features provide added customer security and provide deterrents to both fraud and potential hackers.

In conclusion

Despite these security measures, it goes without saying that all ATM owners, as well as stakeholders, must hold themselves to the same cybercrime prevention standards deployed by several IT companies. ATMs, after all, protect financial information, and it would behoove us to be unprepared in cases of security challenges that could affect it. 

Meanwhile, here's a good informational video for consumers on how to avoid ATM scams.


Marco Hathway

Marco is a businessman for 20 years and a father of 4 boys. He has 2 grandchildren and loves to play golf.

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