Blog: How safe is your Safe?

February 02, 2022  |  B. SCOTT HARROFF

Protect your self-service channel from physical attacks

Since ATMs have existed, people have tried to get at the cash stored inside. Over the years, manufacturers and FIs have developed more and more sophisticated ways to protect their self-service channel... and criminals have answered with new ways to get around them. Some attacks aim to access the card data of users, while others attempt to manipulate the terminal’s inner workings. And others take the most direct route: brute force.

The number of physical attacks has grown by 60% since 2011, finally dropping during the pandemic. The European Association for Secure Transactions (EAST) registered losses of €22 million in relation to physical attacks in 2020—not including the damage to FIs’ reputations, and the risk an attempted physical attack can pose to innocent bystanders. Whether it’s through an explosion, ramming attack or ripping the ATM out of the ground, criminals who want the cash in an ATM don’t seem to care how they access it, as long as they get the cash.

Let’s have a look at two prominent types of physical attack and the measures that are truly effective in reducing the likelihood of a successful attempt:
  • Explosive attacks, which have been troubling FIs in Europe and Latin America for years
  • Hook & Chain attacks, currently exceedingly popular among would-be criminals in the United States

  • Explosive Attacks
    In an explosive attack, criminals use gas or solid explosives and strong tools to gain access to the ATM safe. This can take time, depending on the terminal. Once the explosive is inserted, the safe is blown open and the criminals collect the cash, making their escape in a getaway vehicle. The result is the destruction of not just the ATM—which alone can cost between $200,000 to $350,0001 —but also the surrounding area. That collateral damage can add an additional $1 million. Also, explosive attacks can pose a risk to the people in surrounding buildings, and flying debris can be a danger to passersby. While this attack scenario is more common at ATMs that are deployed outside, even terminals within a branch are not safe. 

    Hook & Chain Attacks
    In a hook & chain attack, criminals try to rip the ATM open with a hook and chain attached to a (usually stolen) vehicle like a pickup truck. Most often, this attack hits drive-up ATMs. They hook the chain into openings in the safe door after ripping off the beauty door and pull it off with the vehicle. Once the door is opened, they remove the cassettes and flee from the site of the crime. Usually, this type of attack takes less than two minutes and leads to losses of about $110,000 to $180,0001.

    Reactive solutions that have been proposed in the past are so-called safe-opening kits, where the gaps in the safe door are minimized with a retrofit kit, or ATM gates, featuring a large bar that covers the front of the ATM. Both have some drawbacks: The former delays the attack, so additional security measures are still required, and the latter adds cost and complexity to service processes and is often not very visually appealing. If you’d like to hear about hook & chain attacks in detail, consider watching the replay of our webinar on the topic.

    What can be done?
    While there have been some quick fixes to protect the ATM from brutal physical attacks, they are not ideal. To reliably diminish the success rate of physical attacks a multi-layer approach is essential: 

    1. Utilize sensors that can detect forceful openings of the chassis and shutters to detect the attack as early as possible. In combination with CCTV, sensor detection gives security and law enforcement more time to react. 
    2. Delay the attack with a strengthened chassis and safe. The more time criminals are forced to spend trying to get into the ATM, the more likely they are to abandon the attack. When we designed our new DN Series™ ATMs, we made security considerations a key priority. That resulted in moving the note path to the top of the safe and positioning it in the middle of the ATM, removing direct access to the safe, so there is no place to hook a chain and no space to insert explosives. 
    3. Neutralize the objective of the attack: the cash within the cassettes. If an attacker does manage to gain access, ink-staining solutions will render the banknotes useless to the criminals.

    What can Diebold Nixdorf do?
    DN Series is MORE Secure by design: The safe and upper cash module are separated from each other, and the note path from the head to the safe is designed to be extremely hard to access. Since both Explosive and Hook & Chain attacks require access to the safe, this design feature is extremely effective in thwarting physical attacks. Additionally, our comprehensive safe portfolio allows you to choose the best level of protection based on your organization’s specific needs. 

    This basic level of protection can be supplemented with additional layers: 

  • Our ActivGuard™ Alarm Board collects information from the security devices within the ATM and passes critical data to the ATM processor to alert an alarm panel or monitoring center.

  • The Chassis and Safe Enforcer provides additional protection through additional locking mechanisms, the reinforcement of the case, cable hole caps, strengthened base brackets and drilling protection on sensitive areas with special material.

  • Inking Solutions can also be equipped to make the cash unusable if an attack should succeed. By making it known that this type of protection is used, criminals are discouraged from attempting an attack.

  • These are just some examples of how DN Series can help to prevent physical attacks from succeeding. Learn more about our full suite of innovative security solutions and connect with our specialists to receive a complimentary security assessment.

    1Diebold Nixdorf estimation from experience, depends on the typical cash load of an ATM.

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