Periscope Skimming, a new ATM threat spotted in the US

Pierluigi Paganini September 14, 2016

Secret Service warns of Periscope Skimming probes, it the first time that law enforcement discovered attacks against ATMs conducted with these devices.

The US Secret Service is warning banks and ATM vendors about a new ATM skimmer technology, the so-called ‘periscope skimming.’ The device is composed of a skimming probe that crooks connect to the ATM’s internal circuit board in order to steal card data.

The popular cyber security expert Brian Krebs published the images of the periscope skimming, the photos show the wires protruding from the periscope.

Periscope Skimming

As explained by Krebs this is the first time that the periscope skimming is spotted by law enforcement in the US. The police have already discovered two installations of the periscope skimming in the country, the first one on August 19 in Greenwich, Connecticut, the second one on September 3 in Pennsylvania

“According to a non-public alert released to bank industry sources by a financial crimes task force in Connecticut, this is thought to be the first time periscope skimming devices have been detected in the United States.” wrote Brian Krebs in a blog post.

The new periscope skimming is able to store up to 32,000 payment card numbers, once installed on the ATM, it has a power autonomy up to 14 days.

In both installations case analyzed by the law enforcement, the cyber criminals had access to the insides of the cash machines (referred to as “top-hat” entry) by using a key, then they installed two devices connecting them by wiring.

One of the devices is the periscope skimming probe that is installed through a pre-existing hole on the frame of the motorized card reader. The probe connects the pad to the circuit board.

The second device is the so-called “skimming control device,” it is directly connected to the skimming probe and is composed of the battery source and data storage unit.

“The probe is set in place to connect to the circuit board and directly onto the pad that transfers cardholder data stored on the magnetic stripe on the backs of customer payment cards. The probe is then held in place with fast-drying superglue to the card reader frame.” wrote Krebs.

“According to the Secret Service, the only visible part of this skimming device once the top-hat is opened will be the wire extending from the periscope probe that leads to the second part of this skimmer — called a “skimming control device.”

Periscope Skimming

Authorities believe the samples of periscope skimming probes recently discovered are just prototypes, in fact, they lack hidden cameras or other methods of capturing bank customer’s PINs at the ATMs.

Krebs sustains that the incidence of such skimming scams will not decrease as more banks begin adopting chip-based payment cards. Most banks and financial institutions will continue to rely on the magnetic stripe to use the new generation of cards. It is likely that banks will continue to use the magnetic stripe at the ATM to check the correct insertion of the card in the slot of the cash machine.

“The principal reason for this is to ensure that customers are putting the card into the slot correctly, as embossed letters and numbers running across odd spots in the card reader can take their toll on the machines over time. As long as the cardholder’s data remains stored on a chip card’s magnetic stripe, thieves will continue building and placing these types of skimmers.” explained Krebs.

How to avoid such kind of attacks?

Users have to avoid using ATMs that may be easier to access from the top-hat, try to use cash machine installed in the wall at a bank and do not use ATMs located in not  protected places.

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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs –  periscope skimming, ATM)

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