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Maxed Out: Thermal Cameras Enable ATM Pin Number Theft

Submitted by on August 18, 2011 – 9:25 amNo Comment

We are all tired of hearing it by now, but we are—indeed—still in a recession. During such an economic slump, there are two types of creativity that occur. People either use their lack of resources to find an opportunity to do things differently or better, leading to new ventures and job creation, or they find bolder methods and targets of theft and robbery. We sure hope some new, money making ventures are coming soon because there are definitely new types of robbery out there, such as thermal cameras.

By now, most of us know what thermal cameras are. We’ve seen them in spy movies, TV shows, and the like. These are cameras that color the images they record based on the amount of heat emanating from them, so the cold things are blue, and the warm things are orange or red. It’s easy to detect human motion in this way because of the heat that comes from our bodies. Thus, if someone puts a camera like this right above an ATM, they can watch you type in your pin and the numbers that you pressed will be warm from your touch, making them easily detected on the thermal camera.

If criminals are writing down or memorizing the numbers as you go, you could be screwed. However, before you swear off ATMs and begin doing old-school withdrawals for the rest of your life, consider this interesting fact: This discovery was not made by a criminal, but by researchers and college students from the University of California, San Diego where apparently crime is a major. Does anybody else wonder why studies like this are conducted? Can’t these ideas developed for the sake of research easily end up in the wrong hands?

Fortunately, the researchers also made another discovery. Thermal-based attacks are virtually impossible on ATMs with metal keys, but the plastic PIN pads with rubber keys are highly susceptible to this type of crime. Furthermore, even without knowing the order, the strength of the thermal reading for each key pressed could give the sequence of the PIN away.To make matters even worse, you can forget raising your shoulders to protect your PIN from this type of theft. Thermal energy remains even after you begin to drive off, so all the perpetrator would have to do is wait. It should be noted that thermal cameras cost a lot of money, and that if a person is desperate enough to start stealing ATM PIN numbers, he or she probably won’t have the cash to afford this type of technology.

To be on the safe side, though, better stick to those metal keypads. You could also use a pencil, pen, or other object to type in your PIN.

Source: MSNBC

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