Jan 3, 2018 | By Benedict

ATM operators are using 3D printed card readers to stop fraudsters fitting credit card “skimmers” to cash machines. Hackaday author Tom Nardi recently happened upon one of the 3D printed devices, initially thinking it was a skimmer.

Credit card skimming is a common kind of card theft in which fraudsters use tiny electronic devices fitted to ATMs in order to steal credit card information. Since these “skimmers” are usually built to look as inconspicuous as possible—they often match the aesthetic of the targeted cash machine—it can sometimes be very difficult to spot them.

Victims of skimming therefore generally don’t realize anything has happened until they notice charges or withdrawals on their card statement. And by that time, serious damage might have been done.

For these reasons, it is advisable to always be on the lookout for slightly unusual-looking elements on cash machines. Even though skimmers can be really tricky to identify, being extra vigilant when putting your card in the slot could save you from being the victim of a particularly nasty crime.

Hackaday blogger Tom Nardi has been fascinated by card skimming for some time, and had wanted to get his hands on one since first hearing about the phenomenon. After all, for a technology enthusiast, these devious pieces of electronic equipment are of great interest.

So when Nardi saw a clearly 3D printed lump protruding from an ATM a few weeks ago, he thought he was in luck: a suspect device, clearly homemade, that surely wasn’t part of the proper ATM design. But despite his best efforts, the 3D printed “skimmer” couldn’t be removed from the machine.

3D printed device designed to prevent card skimming

(Image: Hackaday)

Turns out the 3D printed attachment wasn’t what he thought it was—in fact, it was quite the opposite. When Nardi contacted the ATM operator, he discovered that the 3D printed device was actually a tool for preventing skimmers being attached.

Since credit card thieves are able to get information about ATM designs online, they can easily make components that fit perfectly on their targeted model, often slipping inconspicuously over the existing card reader component.

So the operator of this particular ATM thought: what if we 3D printed our own card reader section that’s nothing like the regular one? That would prevent fraudsters from using easily available design information to their advantage; when they approach the ATM, they will find their skimmer to be physically incompatible with the 3D printed card reader.

Parametric CAD tools could be used to 3D print 'random' card readers

(Image: Hackaday)

Nardi was impressed with the concept in theory, but wondered whether it wouldn’t be better to devise a system that can generate 3D printable card readers that are essentially random in their design. Using a parametric CAD tool would allow the operator to make small geometric protuberances in each individual part, making each one different to the next.

This would allow ATM manufacturers to ensure that every card reader amongst their ATM arsenal is unique in geometry, and could even allow individual operators to switch up their ATM card readers on a regular basis in case thieves find a way to mimic a particular 3D printed design—by use of 3D scanning equipment or other means.

However, Nardi does have a big problem with the whole idea: since the only way to spot a skimmer is to recognize it as unusual-looking, shoddily made, or otherwise conspicuous, it seems somewhat unhelpful to start making 3D printed genuine ATM parts that also look weird and shoddily made.

This could ultimately result in two outcomes: ATM users being too suspicious of the genuine 3D printed card reader to even use the machine, or ATM users getting used to weird-looking ATM components, and therefore becoming less vigilant about potential skimming devices. Both outcomes are obviously bad.

So is this particular ATM operator onto something, or is it a bad idea altogether? While deviating from the ATM’s factory design appears to be a good way of thwarting fraudsters, the amateurish look of this particular 3D printed attachment is clearly a problem.

Perhaps if the operator could produce a component with a more convincing finish, and certainly one without visible layer lines, the tactic would be slightly more successful. In practice, this could probably achieved by simply using a material other than PLA and implementing a more thorough post-processing stage.

The whole 3D printing approach is a tactic that obviously requires a lot of refinement, but it’s certainly not the worst idea.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Eric wrote at 1/5/2018 7:25:36 AM:

That looks so unprofessional that I would not use it thinking it was hacked.

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