Attacks on ATMs have emerged as a significant roadblock to the “Digital India” dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with 30 lakh debit cards being reportedly compromised in recent cases of ATM frauds, a development that also points at the pregnable security measures being adopted by banks.
The “ATM attack” episode that came to light after State Bank of India (SBI) announced reissuing of as many as 600,00 lakh ATM cards is considered to be the financial sector’s biggest data breach so far. Apart from SBI, 19 other banks including, Axis, HDFC, ICCI and Yes were made a part of the entire episode in which customers were duped of over Rs 1.3 crore.
Consequently, the banks took evasive measures like directing debit card users to change their PIN, blocking payments at international locations, reducing the withdrawal limit and issuing cards with magnetic chips instead of magnetic strips on RBI’s directions.
“State Bank Group (SBG) is very sensitive to customers’ interests and accordingly, has proactively taken measures to ensure full security of all Cards which had even the remotest possibility of being at risk. We have already issued about 4 crore EMV Debit Chip Cards,” said an official response from the SBI in reply to this newspaper’s query.
Banking experts believe that frequent exposure of the banking sector to such cyber threats indicate a negligence of the banks in safekeeping the consumers’ money, such as weak cyber security framework, lack of legal framework to cover the victims and outdated standards of communication.
WEAK CYBER SECURITY FRAMEWORK
INTRUSION DETECTION: Thanks to the lapses in the banks’ security measures, these days it is very easy for a hacker to breach the data through simple tricks like spearphishing email with malicious attachment, vishing, smishing, etc.
The current security framework used by banks in India lacks the ability to detect intrusive activity until very late (not until the consumer resisters the complaint).
“You try to open your Gmail account from different locations and immediately you get a mail informing you about the suspected activity. However, in case of banks even if your card is used from a foreign location, the bank fails to detect and subsequently communicate the same to the consumer. This is negligence on the banks’ parts,” Rakshit Tandon, cyber expert and consultant, told The Sunday Guardian.
THIRD PARTY REGULATION: Outsourcing of key ATM operations to third party vendors is very common these days. These third party vendors such as Hitachi payment services use SWITCH software to route data to respective banks and post confirmation from the bank, processes the dispensing of money. While an investigation is on to ascertain the modus operandi, it is reported that this system was bugged, which, in turn, compromised the data. According to the investigation, a malware was detected in certain ATMs that were operated by the third party—Hitachi. This raises a question on the banks’ mechanisms to ensure whether the software used by these third party vendors was bugged or not.
“RBI has also come across instances of fraudulent messages confirming documentary credits being transmitted using SWIFT infrastructure. In another incident involving the shared mobile wallet of a bank, vulnerabilities were observed in the application itself, which led to exploitation by the attackers,” RBI’s Deputy Governor, S.S. Mundra pointed out in his recent lecture.
“The bank was not performing any real time reconciliation and noticed it only when there was a spike in transactions which led to detection during reconciliation,” he added.
PAYMENT SYSTEMS: A few industry experts hold the opinion that the reported compromise of data was possibly due to data breach from the online payment systems.
“The common thing among the 19 banks, whose data were compromised, is the payment system. The report of ATM breach is misdirecting and leading everyone up the wrong tree,” Anupam Saraph, advisor in governance, informatics and strategic planning, told The Sunday Guardian.
Saraph added that all the 19 affected banks were part of the NPCI’s RuPay payment system and Unified Payment Interface (UPI).
“UPI converts your phone into virtual ATM or the Point of Sale and if somebody hacks into this system then the transactions can be made from anywhere in the world. So, in absence of that data from the banks and the circumstantial evidences it was the hacking of the payment system that led to such large scale of data breach,” Saraph added.
Saraph also highlighted the vulnerabilities involved in using Aadhaar based payment and called for abolishing Aadhaar as the KYC.
“Several cases of multiple Aadhaar cards created for the same individual are floating around. Therefore, the linking of the Aadhaar card with the banking and financial system exposes customer data hacking. The use of Aadhaar as KYC should be totally scrapped, as else, it can bring down the entire digital financial system of the country” Saraph suggested.
QUESTIONABLE SECURITY AT ATM KIOSKS: Most ATM kiosks are either unattended or poorly attended by security guards. This gives fraudsters a free hand to install cameras, enable key-jammers and planting skimming devices in the ATMs. Even the security cameras installed are easily tricked and more often than never such incidences go unnoticed by the banks.
“Security at the ATM kiosks is very weak. In majority of the cases, these kiosks are vacant and unattended. Banks must upgrade their security measures by including biometrics and ensuring better surveillance,” said Tandon.
Additionally, a recent research by Kaspersky Lab has highlighted that ATM machines in India use outdated communication standards that expose them to cyber attacks. The international software security group further revealed that widespread use of outdated and insecure software, mistakes in network configuration and a lack of physical security for critical parts of the ATM, make the ATM machine vulnerable to illegal access and jackpotting.
“Many ATMs studied by Kaspersky were running Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Microsoft. This means their security isn’t up to date and malicious malware can be installed without too much effort,” Altaf Halde, Managing Director (South Asia) Kaspersky Lab India, told this correspondent over e-mail.
LACK OF PROPER LEGAL AND SECURITY FRAMEWORK
Unlike in the United States, the victims of cyber breach in India often remain in the dark. In such cases of cyber fraud, the banks make very few details available to the consumers and mostly look for cover ups to avoid any negative sentiments in the market. While this propensity to hide details is understandable, experts assert that keeping the consumer in the dark narrows the scope of improvement.
While banks in countries like the US go through annual forensic auditing, which audits the mechanisms adopted by the banks in mitigating cyber attacks, no such mechanisms are followed in India.
As per industry reports, 80% of organisations including banks, invest all or majority of their investments in mitigating attacks by buying the best of solutions and making their perimetre secure. However, these measures come as a risk management level, which according to industry experts is not enough to ensure strong cyber protection of the consumers.
Talking to The Sunday Guardian about how banks can upgrade their security mechanisms, Altaf Halde pointed out the need of a 360 degree approach to address all security requirements. A four-point approach highlighted by Halde includes, (i) preventing the penetration of malware inside the perimeter, identify and remediate it at an early stage; (ii) detecting the breach incident when penetration attempt is successful; (iii) reacting properly post-breach with a minimal impact on resources and mitigate the aftermath effects; and (iv) empowering customers to predict forthcoming incidents by analysing the evolution of threats and breach tactics.
Halde further called for increasing the scope for covering multiple industry verticals to address the ever increasing cyber crimes/ATM frauds/ data breach.
“The need of the hour is a strong public private partnership to fight the increasing cyber crime situation. As per media sources, RBI has strong compliance modalities for banks, but the scope needs to be increased by other regulatory bodies for covering other industry verticals as well. All the affected parties need to understand that this does not have to be only a ‘tick mark’ activity, but it has to done keeping in mind the need to protect all stakeholders,” said Halde.
After several media reports and cyber experts brought attention towards the existing lapses in our digital financial ecosystem, India’s central banking institution, Reserve Bank of India, issued strict directives such as asking banks to resolve all complaints within 90 days. It also ordered a forensic probe into the matter, reports of which are expected to be out by next month.
The Ministry of Finance too has intervened and has asked for detailed reports from the banks and the regulatory bodies.
While the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and RBI have stated in their respective official statements that there is no need to panic and remedial actions have already taken, cyber experts believe that this incident should be seen as wake-up call to upgrade the security framework of our financial systems.
“Effective public-private partnerships are absolutely essential in the fight against cybercrime to maintain global security. As we are seeing more and more sophisticated attacks—many of which have a global impact—partnerships and information exchange between cyber security companies and the private sector are becoming increasingly valuable,” said Altaf.
Meanwhile, the NPCI has urged debit card users to exercise caution such as changing ATM PINs periodically, keeping bank details confidential and in case of any suspected activity informing the bank immediately, among others.
There is 1 Comment
Submitted by Chinmoy Das (not verified) on Mon, 2016-10-31 10:36
@Anupam Saraph: UPI allows debit based on a secured credential that can be authenticated only by the account holder from his mobile at present. So, a debit cannot happen through UPI without the online intervention of the account holder. Also, the PIN that is used the transaction is encrypted using multiple layer of encryption using multiple algorithms. Even if a PIN is intercepted it cannot be replayed as some unique device validation is done before the debit is processed.
When I opposed Aadhaar in 2010 , I was called a BJP stooge. In 2016 I am still opposing Aadhaar for the same reasons and I am told I am a Congress die hard. No one wants to see why I oppose Aadhaar as it is too difficult. Plus Aadhaar is FREE so why not get one ? Ram Krishnaswamy
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -Mahatma Gandhi
In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. Mahatma Gandhi
“The invasion of privacy is of no consequence because privacy is not a fundamental right and has no meaning under Article 21. The right to privacy is not a guaranteed under the constitution, because privacy is not a fundamental right.” Article 21 of the Indian constitution refers to the right to life and liberty -Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi
“There is merit in the complaints. You are unwittingly allowing snooping, harassment and commercial exploitation. The information about an individual obtained by the UIDAI while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation.” -A three judge bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar said in an interim order.
Legal scholar Usha Ramanathan describes UID as an inverse of sunshine laws like the Right to Information. While the RTI makes the state transparent to the citizen, the UID does the inverse: it makes the citizen transparent to the state, she says.
Good idea gone bad
I have written earlier that UID/Aadhaar was a poorly designed, unreliable and expensive solution to the really good idea of providing national identification for over a billion Indians. My petition contends that UID in its current form violates the right to privacy of a citizen, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. This is because sensitive biometric and demographic information of citizens are with enrolment agencies, registrars and sub-registrars who have no legal liability for any misuse of this data. This petition has opened up the larger discussion on privacy rights for Indians. The current Article 21 interpretation by the Supreme Court was done decades ago, before the advent of internet and today’s technology and all the new privacy challenges that have arisen as a consequence. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP Rajya Sabha
“What is Aadhaar? There is enormous confusion. That Aadhaar will identify people who are entitled for subsidy. No. Aadhaar doesn’t determine who is eligible and who isn’t,” Jairam Ramesh
But Aadhaar has been mythologised during the previous government by its creators into some technology super force that will transform governance in a miraculous manner. I even read an article recently that compared Aadhaar to some revolution and quoted a 1930s historian, Will Durant. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP
“I know you will say that it is not mandatory. But, it is compulsorily mandatorily voluntary,” Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Saba April 2017
Here is what the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance, which examined the draft N I A Bill said.
1. There is no feasibility study of the project]
2. The project was approved in haste
3. The system has far-reaching consequences for national security
4. The project is directionless with no clarity of purpose
5. It is built on unreliable and untested technology
6. The exercise becomes futile in case the project does not continue beyond the present number of 200 million enrolments
7. There is lack of coordination and difference of views between various departments and ministries of government on the project
What was said before the elections:
NPR & UID aiding Aliens – Narendra Modi
"I don't agree to Nandan Nilekeni and his madcap (UID) scheme which he is trying to promote," Senior BJP Leader Yashwant Sinha, Sept 2012
"All we have to show for the hundreds of thousands of crore spent on Aadhar is a Congress ticket for Nilekani" Yashwant Sinha.(27/02/2014)
TV Mohandas Pai, former chief financial officer and head of human resources, tweeted: "selling his soul for power; made his money in the company wedded to meritocracy." Money Life Article
Nilekani’s reporting structure is unprecedented in history; he reports directly to the Prime Minister, thus bypassing all checks and balances in government - Home Minister Chidambaram
To refer to Aadhaar as an anti corruption tool despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary is mystifying. That it is now officially a Rs.50,000 Crores solution searching for an explanation is also without any doubt. -- Statement by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP & Member, Standing Committee on Finance
Finance minister P Chidambaram’s statement, in an exit interview to this newspaper, that Aadhaar needs to be re-thought completely is probably the last nail in its coffin. :-) Financial Express
The Rural Development Ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh created a road Block and refused to make Aadhaar mandatory for making wage payment to people enrolled under the world’s largest social security scheme NRGA unless all residents are covered.