KARACHI: After the second arrest of Chinese nationals in less than a year for allegedly stealing data of banks from their ATMs through skimming devices, initial findings made by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) suggest that the use of “obsolete technology” by the banks for ATMs and decades-old security system at ATM booths makes them an easy target for “an organised foreign group,” officials said.

The situation has prompted the FIA to ask the State Bank of Pakistan to ask banks to enhance security measures for their ATMs that can include introduction of biometric features for the use of service.

“We have been coordinating with the State Bank on this matter,” said an official of the FIA’s cybercrime cell. “We have made three arrests [all Chinese nationals] in two operations within a year and we have evidence of presence of more men of the same origin who are still actively operating in Karachi. The first case in the city was reported in June last year after the arrest of a Chinese national but the recent arrests show that the scam goes on unchecked by the banks.”

The FIA arrested two Chinese nationals last week for allegedly stealing data of a private bank through skimming devices at one of its ATM booths. The arrest came after the bank’s management approached the agency for its assistance when they observed suspicious activity of two foreign nationals at one of its ATM booths.

After days of surveillance and investigation, the FIA arrested the Chinese nationals — Zhong Xianming and Zhong Xianquan — and seized the skimming devices. The official said that though the crime started surfacing in Karachi last year, dozens of such complaints had already been registered in different cities of the country.

“The two suspects arrived in Pakistan in January 2017,” the official said. “A Chinese national is already in jail on the same charges but despite that others are arriving here for the same job. It means that Pakistani banks are an easy target for this foreign group as our ATMs don’t have advance security features.”

He said that the theft of bank data through skimming devices was an old trend in the world but due to advance technology and additional security features used by the banks around the globe it was no more effective in a majority of the countries.

“But in Pakistan, it’s still quite effective,” the official said. “That is why we have approached the State Bank so that it could guide banks in this regard. The existing technology for the machines and conventional security system for ATM booths cannot guarantee safety any more. The banks need to introduce the latest technology for their machines and strengthen surveillance system at their ATM booths.”

He said that the banks could be asked by the State Bank to monitor footage of CCTV cameras installed at their ATM booths after regular intervals and report it to the FIA in case of any suspicious activity.

“Security guards at the ATM booths should also be trained to smell suspicious activity and report that to the bank administration immediately,” he added.

Published in Dawn, March 23rd, 2017

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