Automated teller machines (ATMs) are a hallmark of financial convenience. Prior to their creation, consumers were bound to the limited opening hours of their bank and the assistants who served them if they wanted to withdraw some cash. Today, thanks to 3.2 million ATMs globally, this is no longer the case. ATMs are the most used method of consumers physically interacting with their banks, primarily because they are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Unfortunately, the unquestionable convenience and accessibility of ATMs is also the source of their greatest downfall. Being both unguarded and money-loaded, they are an obvious target for criminal activities and low-risk, high-reward theft opportunities for perpetrators. It is for this reason that 2020 experienced a drastic uptick in the number of ATM heists across the United States.

In Chicago, police were left investigating a series of attempted thefts in January after the individuals involved successfully stole a machine from a restaurant, having used a rock to smash a window and gain entry. In that same month, numerous banks in Florida had become the subject of ATM bombings. Baltimore and St. Louis also experienced an increase in ATM crime last year, where perpetrators had been prying open locks and yanking ATMs directly out of the walls.

Hook and chain attacks are some of the most common. Usually occurring in the early hours, criminals attach one end of a chain to an ATM and the other to the rear of a (usually stolen) vehicle. The driver quickly accelerates, and the safe door is forced open. If successful, criminals can steal upwards of $150,000 in cash cassettes. And even if an attack fails, damages of $45,000 can be racked up to the ATMs and surrounding building structures, rendering them useless until repairs can be made.

There are, of course, solutions available to counter these threats. Let us first consider some traditional physical security measures that banks can take to prevent such crime.

  • During installation, ATMs should be properly secured to the floor and walls to stop them from being rocked from or easily ripped out of their foundations. An improperly secured or exposed ATM will signify a better opportunity to thieves and increase the chances of an attack.
  • Equally, it is worth considering the placement of your ATM. Is it well-lit? Or in a well-populated area? Are there bollards or other obstacles around the machine that might prevent attacks or a quick getaway?

Such questions must be considered to determine whether your ATM is viewed by thieves as a viable target. Owing to stay at home orders brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, such considerations are more important now than ever before, with fewer people frequenting commonly used public spaces where ATMs can usually be found.

Indeed, traditional considerations such as these are still helpful, but they cannot alone form the composition of a comprehensive security solution. Owing to the increasing frequency, diversity and sophistication of attacks, banks must modernize in order to better circumvent ATM crime and protect their bottom line.

Implementing a layered security approach is the best way for organizations to protect their ATMs, curb the number of attacks and deter criminals. Layered security is defined as the use of several different components that work together in tandem to properly protect operations or assets. In other words, multiple lines of defense are created.  Different markets and scenarios require different combinations – here, I can offer some advice for creating an effective layered ATM security solution.

Advanced intrusion detection systems can help to monitor people, vehicles and motion in a scene, possibly meaning the difference between loss or legal action. These smart detection systems often consist of artificial intelligence (AI) and video analytics, which make it possible for banks to automate video analysis and threat detection and significantly reduce the need for manual monitoring. The result? These freed-up resources enable security teams to respond to incidents in real time. While security personnel were traditionally required to spot potential crime on surveillance cameras, intrusion detection systems are now capable of identifying suspicious behavior while removing the possibility for human error, such as a lapse in concentration.

AI and video analytics can also be linked with real-time alerts and recording. When suspicious or criminal activity is detected, instant alert notifications can be automatically generated and sent to inform dispatchers and security personnel of a possible breach, saving precious seconds that can help to catch perpetrators either during or in the immediate aftermath of a crime.

These security solutions can be combined with advanced video and audio analytics technologies that are able to determine the extent of a threat, be it loitering or full-scale hook and chain attacks. Facial recognition can also be used to identify suspects or known persons, allowing for preventative action and proactive preparations to be made. In instances where attacks do happen, smart devices can be installed within the ATMs themselves, allowing them to be tracked and located should the machine be taken.

In making such preparations and creating an effective layered ATM security solution, deterrence and protection are both bolstered. Physical ATM security can no longer be ignored. Criminals will naturally follow the path of least resistance. If steps are taken to make theft more difficult, thieves will turn their attentions either away from committing the crime altogether, or towards an easier target.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.