Former thief invents theft-proof ATMs from his prison cell
Romanian computer expert Valentin Boanta once helped thieves clone credit cards. Now, he has invented an ATM upgrade to prevent card copying altogether.
Mon, May 20, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Who knows security better than a thief?
Romanian computer expert Valentin Boanta used to supply thieves with the skimmers they used to gather information to create fake bank cards and then steal cash from ATMs.
Boanta, 33, was caught in 2009. And now, six months into his five-year sentence, the former thief has developed a technology that would safeguard ATMs from the very attacks in which he used to participate.
"When I got caught, I became happy," Boanta told Reuters. "This liberation opened the way to working for the good side."
Skimming is the act of copying a credit or debit card by scanning the magnetic strip on the card's back. Thieves then use these cloned cards to withdraw money from the cardholder's bank account at an ATM.
[See also: 5 Steps to Better Credit Card Security]
Boanta supplied a Romanian criminal gang with gadgets that hid any evidence of foul play and made the cloned cards seem almost exactly like the originals.
His invention, called Secure Revolving System or SRS, can prevent skimming from happening in the first place.
Users insert their card into the SRS long edge first, instead of the narrow end. That way, any attached skimmer or other surveillance gadget would be unable to scan the card's magnetic strip. Once the card is safely inside the ATM, the device rotates it, reads it and spits it back out — long edge first.
Essentially, the SRS is a long-overdue upgrade for ATMs whose aging hardware can't compete with modern digital theft technologies.
Boanta designed the SRS from his cell in a Romanian prison, which he shares with five other burglars and a shelf full of books and technical manuals.
But he's not without outside help: His research is funded by Romanian tech firm MB Telecom, which has patented the SRS and says it will be available soon, though an exact release date has not yet been announced. MB Telecom President Mircea Tudor also told Reuters that Boanta would definitely have a job with the company when the reformed thief gets out of prison in four and a half years.
Romania is a frequent source of computer hacks, scams and malware. [See also: 'TinKode' Suspect Arrested for NASA, Government Attacks] The former communist country has a history of both social unrest and technical education. The combination has made the country a haven for hackers; it's second only to China in incidents of reported cyberattacks, according to Verizon's 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report.
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