Sovereign Bank's James Zardecki on Protecting ATMs

Coming in for the 2006 Financial and Banking Security Symposium, held Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 14-16, in Palm Beach, Fla., I've had the chance to catch up on the latest discussions among banking security professionals. One of the first sessions that I was able to jump in on after I arrived at the conference was hosted by James Zardecki, the director of loss prevention and security for Sovereign Bank. He has more than 20 years of experience in banking security, so it's safe to say that Zardecki has "seen it all".

However, one small trend, as banks have moved to a self-service design where customers do their banking at ATMs, has been the number of attacks upon ATMs. Criminal attacks have included spoofs that put fake card readers on ATMs, but the more common attacks are physical attacks to either attempt to haul off the ATM entirely or violently pry it open to access the cash funds inside.

Zardecki has been watching this and has come up with some helpful tips to protect ATMs.

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First and foremost, says Zardecki, the drive-up ATM is at a weakness because it's an isolated entity. Zardecki says that, when possible, the best way to mitigate these attacks is to integrate the ATM into the side of the bank. Some bankers from the audience noted that they were doing that by moving ATMs inside the bank, such that the customer interface is presented in the first drive-up lane.

By doing that, notes Zardecki, you can almost eliminate the "haul-off" attacks and the pry open attacks (since these style ATMs do not hinge open to the outside). Banks can then also have the machines serviced from inside the bank and can re-supply cash and remove deposits from within an interior secured area. There may even be some savings, he says, because you no longer need the services of a cash handling truck.

But, for most banks, ATMs are already in place in the last drive-up lane and will need to stay there. In those cases, says Zardecki, you have to approach ATM security with a number of secondary systems.

He recommends a complete review of lighting around the ATM, as well as surveillance camera installations, such that you can capture close views, but also angles that might reveal license plates and vehicle descriptions. But don't stop there, he says. GPS installations that can track stolen ATMs (some of these machines are small enough to go in the back of pick-ups) are one avenue.

He also recommends looking into what are called "Octopus installations" - an alarm system that addresses not only positioning (tilt, vibration, etc), but which will include a exploding dye pack, similar to what banks have done with bags of cash from inside bank robberies.

Finally, he notes, that the trusted bollard is a smart choice. He notes that they have even been using a custom made bollard that blocks access to the weak points of some ATM designs, and which can be integrated with sensors and alarm communications wiring. "These bollards," says Zardecki, "would have to be cut to gain access to the ATM, but doing that would set off the alarm well before they could get to the machine."