Keeping an eye on your money: Video surveillance and ATMs

Andrea Sorri

No one can deny the convenience of the automatic teller machine (ATM). In most cities there seems to be one on every corner, ready to dispense clean crisp bills in an instant as you head out on the town, go shopping or do your Saturday morning errands.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time I actually went it to a bank office to make a withdrawal.

The banks love these handy machines, too, since they provide more ways for customers to do business with them, reduce long queuing, and lower the cost for cash handling within the branches.

You know who else likes ATMs? The bad guys! Like the old saying goes: “Why do robbers rob banks? Because that’s where the money is.” The same is true for ATMs and in many cases they are much easier to heist than an actual bank. In 2014, the total loss related to ATM related fraud attacks in Europe reached 280 million Euros, an increase of 13% compared with the previous year. (Source: EAST)

How the ATM sting works

Skimming, where criminals copy the data stored on the magnetic stripe of your debit or credit card when you put your card in the card reader, continues to be the major problem for ATMs. More than 92% of crime against ATM machines globally is related to skimming and in 2014 the total loss from skimming was over 2 billion USD. Other types of ATM attacks like cash and card trapping, where fraudsters make sure your cash is trapped in the cash dispenser or your card in the card reader, are way crooks are getting to your money.

The good news is that the industry is getting smarter about protecting ATMs. Continuous investment by the machine manufacturers in the development of more advanced security features for the ATMs helps, including anti-skimming solutions, new designs of the ATMs and use of new hardware that will better withstand the increasing threat of attacks using gas or solid explosives.

An eye on your money

But to really keep an eye on things – literally – video surveillance, particularly IP based systems, is an increasingly important way to protect ATMs. There is a move away from traditional built-in analogue security cameras in combination with DVRs because they generally generate poor quality video, many times useless for forensic use. Shifting lighting conditions and direct sunlight are challenging for any camera, and small analogue pinhole cameras and USB cameras are among the worst.  According to the Swedish police department of technical investigations, today more than 80% of all video obtained from ATMs and retail stores is useless for forensic use.

All that is changing. For example, there are now pinhole network cameras available that are offering all the benefits of traditional IP surveillance cameras, including HDTV quality – but in a form factor that is small and flexible enough for installations in ATMs. These cameras also can adjust to the challenge of shifting lighting conditions and backlight and offer sharp images independently of the situation.

Banks are also using more edge recording – recording video onboard the camera on an SD card – eliminating the need for additional hardware such as a DVRs to be installed inside the ATM, thus reducing costs dramatically. The remote access makes it possible to download images from anywhere, hence shortening the time from downloading to investigation rapidly.

Additional intelligent video applications that are run onboard the camera further thwart the bad guys’ efforts. Alerts can then be sent when specific behavior is being observed, for example a shady looking character standing around an ATM for a long time without actually initiating any transaction on the ATM. Similarly, facial recognition technology is being used for verifying that the cardholder is the same as the person in front of the ATM or recognizing abnormal behavior such as a person accessing the same ATM various times per day. The performance of a facial recognition system is highly dependent on the quality of the images captured, making IP cameras with HDTV quality the best choice.

So next time you need a quick cash infusion, rest assured that your bank’s ATM machine is a whole lot more secure than it used to be thanks to video surveillance that is keeping an eye on your money.

More about Axis offering for ATMs.