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Recent Malaysian ATM Attacks Underscore Criticality of Continuous Monitoring

Recently, an unusual series of attacks occurred against ATM machines in Malaysia. What makes this set of attacks unusual is that the attackers combined a physical attack against an older Windows XP based model of an NCR ATM machine with a cyber attack against the embedded PC within the machine.

A total of 18 ATMs were hit in this attack, netting the attackers approximately $1M USD. Although the cashbox where the money is kept was physically secure, the compartment where the controlling PC is located was not secure at all. In fact, on this specific model of ATM, a common key is used to open the PC compartment. The attackers opened the compartment using this common key, inserted a CD-ROM into the PC, and injected the backdoor.padpin trojan. Then, with this trojan installed, the attackers entered a special code on the keypad and dispensed money.

This is exactly the point of Continuous Monitoring—to allow for early detection of threats that get around your security infrastructure in ways that you did not anticipate

This is not the first time a combination physical/cyber attack was launched against ATM machines. A similar attack occurred in Macau in May 2014 when the thieves used another physical vector on a different type of ATM machine to inject malware similar.

This attack indicates yet again how important continuous monitoring is as part of your organization’s overall security architecture. In these two cases, the anticipated vector for attack (the cashbox) was bypassed. Another vector, which was unanticipated or otherwise not considered by the owning banks, was exploited instead.

And this is exactly the point of Continuous Monitoring—to allow for early detection of threats that get around your security infrastructure in ways that you did not anticipate. No security architecture is perfect, no security implementation is perfect, and no security policy is perfect. Continuous monitoring helps to detect those threats that circumvent your defenses so that you can mitigate them fast.