Romanian Hacker Seeks Redemption At The ATM
May 17, 2013

Romanian Hacker Seeks Redemption At The ATM

Enid Burns for — Your Universe Online

Reports of “skimmers” hacking into accounts and stealing millions of dollars regularly seen on the nightly news are enough to scare many people away from the ATM. A Romanian hacker in prison for producing such skimmers has reached a penitent moment, and from behind bars has created a card reader that he says will prevent skimming devices from being installed, Reuters reports.

Skimming has become prevalent at ATM machines worldwide. An ATM skimming device is installed by criminals, which sits in front of the card reader and is able to steal bankcard information and create clone cards with which to steal money.

The reader created by inmate Valentin Bonata, who is currently serving a five-year sentence in the Vasuli penitentiary in Romania, has the bank card inserted horizontally, and is then rotated inside the machine in order to read the magnetic strip. The card is then tuned horizontal once again as it is returned to the user, IBTimes UK reports.

Before being convicted, Bonata was a thrill junkie. "Crime was like a drug for me. After I was caught, I was happy I escaped from this adrenaline addiction," he told Reuters. "So that the other part, in which I started to develop security solutions, started to emerge."

In prison Bonata works at a craftsman desk, where he invented the device. The hacker-turned-security-inventor says that ATMs are outdated. "All ATMS have [aging] designs so they are prone to vulnerability, they are a very weak side of the banking industry," Bonata said to Reuters.

The new solution -- Bonata calls it the “Secure Revolving System,” or SRS -- rotates the card to prevent skimmers from being able to lock on to the magnetic data strip.

"Every ATM can be penetrated through a skimming crime. My security solution, SRS, makes an ATM unbreachable," Bonata told Reuters.

The SRS is funded and in development with a technology firm near Bucharest called MB Telecom. The device is patented and this year won an award at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva. It is expected that the SRS will be available soon, though a price is yet to be stated.

"He fully deserves such recognition," SRS co-inventor and MB Telecom president Mircea Tudor told Reuters. "He's taking part in improving Romania's image abroad and he'll surely join our team when released."

Bonata is six months into his five-year sentence. He was arrested and charged with supplying gadgets to an organized crime gang that was used to conceal ATM skimmers.

In an annual Data Breach Report from Verizon Enterprises, the company reported that Romanian criminals were responsible for 28 percent of the 47,000 cases of personal data theft it investigated. China beat out Romania, accounting for 30 percent of cases, IBTimes reports .

The paper also reports that a global ring of criminals operating in 27 different countries recently stole $45 million from ATMs by hacking credit card processing companies and increasing the withdrawal limit on dummy bankcards.