For years, security researchers and cybercriminals have hacked ATMs by using all possible avenues to their innards, from opening a front panel and sticking a thumb drive into a USB port to drilling a hole that exposes internal wiring. Now one researcher has found a collection of bugs that allow him to hack ATMs—along with a wide variety of point-of-sale terminals—in a new way: with a wave of his phone over a contactless credit card reader.
Josep Rodriguez, a researcher and consultant at security firm IOActive, has spent the last year digging up and reporting vulnerabilities in the so-called near-field communications reader chips used in millions of ATMs and point-of-sale systems worldwide. NFC systems are what let you wave a credit card over a reader—rather than swipe or insert it—to make a payment or extract money from a cash machine. You can find them on countless retail store and restaurant counters, vending machines, taxis, and parking meters around the globe.
Now Rodriguez has built an Android app that allows his smartphone to mimic those credit card radio communications and exploit flaws in the NFC systems’ firmware. With a wave of his phone, he can exploit a variety of bugs to crash point-of-sale devices, hack them to collect and transmit credit card data, invisibly change the value of transactions, and even lock the devices while displaying a ransomware message. Rodriguez says he can even force at least one brand of ATMs to dispense cash—though that “jackpotting” hack only works in combination with additional bugs he says he’s found in the ATMs’ software. He declined to specify or disclose those flaws publicly due to nondisclosure agreements with the ATM vendors.