NFC flaws let researchers hack an ATM by waving a phone

Enlarge (credit: Chalongrat Chuvaree | Getty Images)

For years, security researchers and cybercriminals have hacked ATMs by using all possible avenues to their innards, from opening a front panel and sticking a thumb drive into a USB port to drilling a hole that exposes internal wiring. Now, one researcher has found a collection of bugs that allow him to hack ATMs—along with a wide variety of point-of-sale terminals—in a new way: with a wave of his phone over a contactless credit card reader.

Josep Rodriguez, a researcher and consultant at security firm IOActive, has spent the last year digging up and reporting vulnerabilities in the so-called near-field communications reader chips used in millions of ATMs and point-of-sale systems worldwide. NFC systems are what let you wave a credit card over a reader—rather than swipe or insert it—to make a payment or extract money from a cash machine. You can find them on countless retail store and restaurant counters, vending machines, taxis, and parking meters around the globe.

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