Hitting the ‘Jackpot’ With ATMs

ATM attack

Money doesn’t grow on trees

“Money doesn’t grow on trees”. We have all heard this saying which emphasizes that money does not simply appear, that making a living requires hard work and long hours. But what if this isn’t the case? Cybercriminals are carrying out jackpotting attacks on ATMs that suggest that actually, yes, money can just appear, and, no, it does not require hard work and long hours – more like a few minutes.

See a penny ATM, pick it up, attack it

ATMs are valuable targets for financially motivated cybercriminals; they are essentially metal boxes storing large amounts of cash. It is, therefore, no surprise that ATMs are often subject to attack. An attack on an ATM can bring the perpetrator instant rewards – and in substantial amounts. With more than 3.5 million ATMs around the world, malicious actors are not short of targets. And what better way to attack an ATM than to jackpot it?

A global attack surface

Jackpotting is a type of logical ATM attack that instructs the machine to dispense cash at a rapid pace. Such attacks have become more frequent, with the European Association for Secure Transactions (EAST) reporting a 269% increase in logical attacks between 2019 and 2020. The worldwide presence of ATMs means jackpotting attacks are a global threat. In Europe, Diebold Nixdorf, a leading ATM manufacturer, issued an alert warning about the rising number of jackpotting attacks in 2020. Last month, two individuals were arrested for jackpotting attacks in Europe which saw them steal over $273,000. The Secret Service also issued a warning regarding jackpotting attacks in the United States.

Taking over

Jackpotting attacks occur in one of two ways; through malware or using a black box. Both methods require physical access to the machine and the use of hardware attack tools, known as rogue devices.


The attacker inserts a USB device ridden with ATM-specific malware, such as CutletMaker or Ploutus D, to the ATM’s USB port. The malware instructs the machine to dispense cash which the attacker later collects. Ploutus, which first appeared in Mexico in 2013, has generated a loss of more than $450 million globally.

Black box

The perpetrator attaches a black box (typically a Raspberry Pi device) to the ATM’s internal cash dispenser. The black box relays commands sent from the attacker to the cash dispenser, forcing it to spit out money. As in the malware-based method, the malicious actor (or a trusty accomplice) swiftly comes to pick up the cash. Research by Positive Technologies found that 69% of ATMs are vulnerable to black box attacks.

ATM attack

Invisibility appeal

Attackers need to gain physical access to the ATM when conducting a jackpotting attack. This, however, is not too much of a challenge. Most offsite ATMs lack sufficient physical protection, relying mainly on CCTV and the prying eyes of the public – obstacles that can easily be bypassed.

In addition to attackers’ ability to go unnoticed, their devices, too, perform covertly. Hardware attack tools operate on the Physical Layer, which goes uncovered by existing security solutions. The lack of Physical Layer visibility means that when a rogue device gets inserted into the ATM, it raises no security alarms.

With no security measures stopping the malicious actor or their attack tools, one can see the appeal of attacking an ATM.

Get your money’s worth

Heavy spending on cybersecurity should bring a high return on investment, yet gaps in visibility limit this. Sepio Systems’ Hardware Access Control (HAC-1) solution provides a panacea to gaps in device visibility to ensure you are getting the most out of your cybersecurity investments. HAC-1 integrates with existing solutions, such as NAC, EPS, SIEM and SOAR, to enhance the organization’s cybersecurity posture. HAC-1’s deep visibility capabilities mean no device goes unmanaged; the solution identifies, detects, and handles all IT/OT/IoT devices. Moreover, HAC-1’s policy enforcement mechanism and Rogue Device Mitigation capabilities instantly block any unapproved or rogue hardware. In doing so, ultimately, HAC-1 enables a Zero Trust Hardware Access approach which stops attackers at the first line of defense.

HAC-1 has successfully detected and blocked rogue devices at top tier banks’ ATMs. Give us just 24 hours to show you how we can protect your ATMs and stop you from becoming an attacker’s next slot machine.

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