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RIYADH: Concerns have been raised over the security of automated teller machines (ATMs) after a group of men managed to withdraw large amounts of money from them in Taif.

Police in Taif arrested three young Saudis, all in their 20s, more than two months ago in connection with the illegal withdrawals. A local bank complained to the Taif governorate office about the hackers, who had managed to withdraw more than SR800,000.

The three men allegedly told authorities that they used a magnetic card used in children.s amusement centres to conduct their operations.

They used the card only on old ATMs because according to them it would not work on new ones. One of the members bought a new car for SR200,000. Undercover police were monitoring him until officers were able to confirm he was one of the hackers. Many experts expressed their surprise over the security of these ATMs.

ATMs started operating in the early 1980s in Riyadh in limited places. Currently, ATMs are available almost everywhere, in hospitals, inside banks, commercial establishments, major streets and airports and many other places.

A total of SR39.9 billion was withdrawn from more than 10,000 cash machines all over the Kingdom in 2010. The amount shows the rising use of ATM cards and withdrawals from cash machines, which raises questions about their security.

Waleed Khalil, an expert in information security, said there are many ways to steal from ATM machines or from customers using the machines.

He said one of the methods thieves employ is to force their victims to make a withdrawal from ATMs using their cards. In most cases, the thieves will walk away with the maximum amount of money ATM users are allowed to withdraw in one day. A recent international study showed that 41 million people were victims to ATM fraud in 2009 in Europe.

Bank employees are also known to steal from ATMs. Since the salaries of bank employees are considered high compared with other sectors, such incidents do not exceed 0.3 percent of total crimes in Saudi, compared with 17.1 percent in Europe.

The other and most common theft involving ATMs is to steal the machine itself using heavy machinery such as trucks. These thieves are most of the times caught in the act. There were less than five such thefts in the Kingdom.

The most dangerous type of ATM theft is .white card fraud,. where thieves insert cards the same size as an ATM card and program in PIN and card numbers. This is similar to the theft case in Taif.

In America, such thieves use electronic cards that can hack into PIN numbers or in some cases install a small camera in a hidden place in the ATM where they can secretly monitor customers entering their PIN in. The total initial loss associated with such thefts is estimated at $3.4 billion.

Khalil said that in order to avoid such thefts, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency should implement strict rules and regulations to guarantee the safety of these ATMs, such as placing the machines in open and well-lighted areas.

Another way to protect customers is to install reflective mirrors on top of ATMs so customers can see any suspicious activities taking place around them. Emergency phones and panic buttons should also be installed on the ATMs to alert police. Khalil also said that old ATMs should be replaced with newer and more secure ones.

Via Arab News