Banks: U.S. ATMs protected against cyber attacks

Dick Uliano,

WASHINGTON – A cyber attack in South Korea that paralyzed bank machines across the country calls to mind how dependent Americans have become on ATMs and other electronic banking services.

U.S. Consumers have grown increasingly reliant on debit and credit cards to get cash, pay for groceries and even buy a cup of coffee. So can the kind of computer assault that crashed ATM services in South Korea happen here?

“You can never state with complete certainty that an event is not going to happen,” says Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management policy for the American Bankers Association.

But Johnson is confident ATM networks in the United States have adequate safeguards in place to ensure the systems stay up and running.

“We have a number of firewalls, a number of ways to detect intrusions, a number of ways to protect the systems so that they’re available,” he says.

Johnson says redundancies built into U.S. electronic banking systems are key to ensuring that ATMs don’t fall prey to the type of cyber attack that crippled banking machines in South Korea.

“I do believe that we have a system here in the states that allows us the highest level of resiliency possible to withstand those kinds of attacks,” he says.

However the bankers association, which represents banks across the country, says the past six months have brought a variety of cyber threats to financial institutions in the United States. Most of those threats were denial of service attacks, which render a bank’s website briefly unavailable.

“We have attacks on a continual basis,” Johnson says, “we realize that cyber security is something we have to be eternally vigilant about.”

The computer attacks against U.S. banks have grown more menacing, according to Johnson.

“Increasingly, we see a more highly sophisticated attack from criminal enterprises and from nation-states,” he says.

Beyond cybersecurity technology, Johnson says banks routinely share security information with other banks to help combat the threat.

“We spend a lot of time sharing information,” he says, “because security is not a competitive issue. It’s clearly an issue we have to cooperate on.”

If U.S. electronic banking systems including ATM’s were ever shut down by cyber attack, Johnson believes it would not be a prolonged outage and the system would quickly bounce back.

“I would point to the denial of service attacks that the financial institutions have had over the past six months,” he says.

“By and large those were brief moments in time, systems were able to come back up and that’s what I would envision if we were to have a similar attack on the ATM system,” he says.

“We have a great capacity to bring those systems back up,” he says.

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