U.S. Secret Service warns hackers use endoscopes to clean out ATMs

You read that right. The first “jackpotting” attacks are unfolding in the U.S., with hackers using medical endoscopes to look inside front-loading ATMs and locate components where they can tether a laptop, inject malware and make the ATM spit out all its cash.

A notice to financial institutions by the US Secret Service reveals that “jackpotting” hackers, typically known to be operating in Europe and Asia, are now targeting the United States, where several such attacks have been unfolding for almost two weeks now.

Sources that asked to remain anonymous told security researcher Brian Krebbs that “the Secret Service has received credible information that crooks are activating so-called ‘cash out crews’ to attack front-loading ATMs manufactured by ATM vendor Diebold Nixdorf.”

The hackers have been using the Ploutus.D malware in coordinated attacks over the past 10 days, according to the secret service memo. And this is where it gets interesting:

“The Secret Service alert explains that the attackers typically use an endoscope — a slender, flexible instrument traditionally used in medicine to give physicians a look inside the human body — to locate the internal portion of the cash machine where they can attach a cord that allows them to sync their laptop with the ATM’s computer,” Krebbs reports.

Once the hackers tether to the ATM’s innards, remote “co-conspirators” begin to control the ATM from afar, forcing it to dispense cash. During this time, the ATM will appear Out of Service.

“In previous Ploutus.D attacks, the ATM continuously dispensed at a rate of 40 bills every 23 seconds [until the machine is completely emptied of cash],” according to the alert.

All financial institutions operating vulnerable machines have reportedly received the memo, complete with instructions to mitigate risk. Notably, the US secret service says ATMs still running on Windows XP are “particularly vulnerable” to jackpotting. Operators are urged to ditch the old OS in favor of a newer version.

Last year, Positive Technologies made a video demonstration for BBC Click to show how easy it is to trick ATMs running Windows XP into releasing money on demand. The hackers drilled a hole in the machine, pulled out a USB cable and physically infected the ATM with malware.

More recently, an employee of Russian website Habrahabr showed how a full-size keyboard on a Windows-enabled ATM can allow anyone to hack it with just five keystrokes.

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