Global hackers syndicate clears out $45 million from ATMs

Security professionals have been left stunned by a globally-coordinated heist which drained cash machines in different countries of $45 million in a matter of hours. The sophistication of the operation, apart from its size and the ease with which it was carried out, was unparalleled.

US authorities have arrested seven persons accused of operating the New York cell, which according to prosecutors was part a network that robbed ATMs in 27 countries from Canada to Russia. The investigation involved law enforcement agencies from more than a dozen nations.

According to Rose Romero a former federal prosecutor and regional director for the US Securities and Exchange Commission, it was unfortunate that these types of cybercrimes involving ATMs, where a flash mob went out across the globe, was becoming more and more common. Romero says many more heists of this type could be expected.

The modus operandi of the thieves was simple. Hackers gained access to bank databases, eliminated withdrawal limits on pre-paid debit cards and created access codes. Data was then loaded onto plastic cards with magnetic stripe any card could do as long as it carried the account data and correct access codes.

According to authorities, a network of operatives then fanned out to rapidly withdraw money in multiple cities. A cut of the money would then be taken by the cells with the balance laundered through expensive purchases or shipped wholesale to the global ringleaders.

In New York City alone, the thieves responsible for ATM withdrawals targeted 2,904 machines over 10 hours starting on 19 February, and withdrew $2.4 million.