Thieves can now rob ATMs with text messages

Robbing an ATM could now be just a matter of sending text, if you know how, according to a new report from Symantec.

What criminals would need to do is to connect a mobile phone to the ATM through a USB port and then infect the ATM with Ploutus malware, according to the internet security company's blog post on Monday.

This involves opening the top section of an ATM but while this looks easier than forcing one's way through the heavy door protecting the cash, it does look suspicious.

Once they have accomplished this, criminals can send text messages to the connected phone to tell the ATM to start serving up the cash, whenever they or more likely one of their accomplices are around.

The same thing can also be accomplished with an external keyboard, that is even more dicey than sticking a cellphone inside.

Thankfully there have been no reported cases of thieves helping themselves with stolen cash from an ATM.

What the internet security firm is doing is highlighting a vulnerability in ATMs, especially ones running Windows XP.

Obviously, pulling off an operation like this is a risky undertaking, and extremely difficult even with less-secure ATMs. However, if  one could isolate and pick the lock of an ATM it was possible to steal cash with text messages.

In order to send the SMS, they first need to connect their mobile phone to the ATM, and that can be done in a number of ways.

According to Symantec researchers, in order to send the SMS the thieves would need ''to connect their mobile phone to the ATM, and that can be done in a number of ways.''

"A common method is to use a setup called USB tethering, which is effectively a shared Internet connection between a phone and a computer (or in this case, an ATM)," Symantec researchers explain.

"The attackers need to set the phone up correctly, connect it to the ATM and infect the ATM with Ploutus. Once all of these steps are complete, a full two-way connectivity is established and the phone is ready to be used."

The researchers also offered advice how vulnerable ATMs could be protected from attackers.

While upgrading to a newer OS was one way,  setting the BIOS to prevent the booting of unauthorised media would also give effective protection. Access to the ATMs' computer could also be made more difficult, possibly with the installation of CCTV cameras focus on the ATMs to spot suspicious behaviour.