New technology making it easier for 'lone-wolf' crooks to card skim

News by Rene Millman

"Lone-wolf" card skimmers using cheap tech to defraud victims, report finds, lowering the barrier to entry for cyber-criminals.

Newer technology is making it even easier for anyone to create card skimmers and defraud victims of money from their bank accounts.
According to a new report by security researchers at Advanced Intel, while there are sophisticated networks of criminals operating using advanced technological solutions, others are getting in on the action with simpler tools.
The report said that Russian-speaking real carding communities have traditionally been exclusive and tight-lipped regarding their skimming operations. Skimming developers form exclusive trusted underground criminal networks thereby connecting talented engineers, their trusted sellers, and wealthy carder buyers of such tools.
"Newer technologies advance help reduce barriers of entry: "lone-wolf" cyber-criminals craft cheaper and simpler skimmers without the historical dependence on the well-established trusted criminal networks," the report said.
Based on intelligence received by the security researchers, they found that audio-skimmers have been on the increase over the past couple of years. These devices record audio in a moment when the card magnetic track is being scanned. Researchers said that this technology is an ideal entry point for novices to skimming industry due to their moderate price of approximately US$ 1,500 (apx £1,200) and high resilience. 
"These skimmers can bypass jittering and radio-electronic defences; however, they are extremely vulnerable to noise jamming," researchers said.
The research also found that there are more advanced versions of audio skimmers (called flash audio skimmers) proliferating since 2017. They use timing-calculating algorithms to "read" the audio when the card is been scanned by the ATM, which allows them to decode a track in 1-2 seconds and immediately convert it into text format.
"These skimmers are more expensive with the price of over US$ 2,000 (£1,500); however, they are able to operate for over 20 hours and record over 500 track dumps per session," researchers said.
Researchers add that over the last ten years technological shifts revolutionised skimming operations capabilities and changed the balance in skimming production.
"One of the key shifts was the introduction of smaller batteries with larger capacities, which increased skimmer operation time. Additionally, the memory of device drives also increased exponentially along with signal coverage. Skimmers are now smaller, cheaper, and more efficient," said researchers.
The increased availability of smartphones and Bluetooth devices have also spurred more criminals to enter the market.
"The development of massive online retailer services made ATM components, including anti-skimming plugins readily available. As a result of this shift, many carders started to develop their own small ATM skimmers, often known as mini-readers. Instead of classic skimmers, mini-readers, are more simple devices which can be assembled in home settings," researchers said.
Researchers concluded that various socio-economic and educational upbringing factors contribute to this growth amongst fraudsters in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States with its traditionally high quality of education, especially in the areas of microelectronics and engineering. 
"AdvIntel subject matter experts assess with a high degree of confidence that skimming technology will be continued to be upgraded to bypass new defences with the trend towards decentralised skimming operations with the lowered barriers of entry for novice skimming operators," the report said.

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