Automated Teller Machines or ATMs have changed the way people do banking. Before the arrival of ATMs people had to wait for the bank to open, and stand in long queues to withdraw their own money, or just to know the balance on their account. Now ATMs are everywhere, in shopping malls, hospitals, offices and chances are that one is in your neighbourhood as well. Statistics have revealed that as of August 2006, there are over 1.5 million of these smart systems in operation.
Although the primary use of ATMs is for dispensing cash, these intelligent machines can be used for multiple purposes apart from bank-related functions. Since ATMs have a user interface at their disposal, they have been targeted by banks as a sales device, for displaying targeted advertising. Banks have recognized the huge potential for advertising of their own as well as third-party products and services on ATMs. In some countries ATMs are also used for purchasing commodities such as postage stamps, lottery tickets, train tickets, concert tickets etc.
ATMs as other technological devices have also been targeted by criminals to gain access to the cash lying inside these dispensers. Although ATMs are considered to be very secure, they have been subject to criminal attacks, with thieves attempting to get away with the entire ATM. Since ATMs are designed and constructed to be physically invulnerable, thieves resort to using construction machinery to demolish or uproot an entire ATM and steal any cash within. Criminals have also used explosives to blast open the ATM and get into its cash vault.
ATMs are quite secure for transactions, using advanced encryption techniques to encrypt sensitive information such as pin numbers, so that they cannot be sniffed across the network. To overcome this limitation, criminals have resorted to placing fake keypads on the ATM terminals to record the card number and pin. These are then used to gain access to an unsuspecting user’s accounts to withdraw cash or transfer money. High tech criminals also resort to a technique involving the installation of a magnetic card reader and a wireless surveillance camera to observe the user’s pin, and later use a fake card to dispense cash from the ATM.
Banks have resorted to various means to get around this of which the most successful have been the use of biometrics, where a user is identified using either one or a combination of his physical traits. Popular biometric techniques involve scanning of the iris or matching the fingerprints of the user with the ones stored in the bank’s database. Other security techniques put in place by banks involve the development of intelligent sensors that detect the presence of foreign objects and trigger an alarm. Banks have claimed a 99% success rate, using these techniques.
In spite of a few shortcomings, ATMs continue to be a huge success and have proved to be highly popular thus making them a must for banks. However the future of ATMs remains uncertain. Although, statistics indicate that the numbers of ATMs are steadily on the rise and continue to make their presence felt at gasoline stations and shopping outlets, the advent of a cashless society and home banking can pose a serious threat to these marvellous machines. They also face fierce competition from an increasing rise of point-of-sale systems and smart cards.
Having celebrated their 40th birthday recently, these amazing machines could possibly be made extinct by paperless money in times to come.