95% of ATMs

Nearly 95% of ATMs in the world may soon become targets for hackers unless their software is updated by April 8, as reported by Businessweek. It turns out most of the 420,000 ATMs in the U.S., in addition to others worldwide, run on Windows XP. Since Microsoft is killing off XP technical support as of the April deadline, it means that those ATMs will no longer receive any security patches to fix flaws in the operating system.

What does this mean for ATMs with Windows XP?

For the ATMs still running Windows XP after April 8, it means that they will become defenseless to hackers because the security vulnerabilities of the software will no longer be fixed. So once a hacker recognizes a vulnerability with the software, they will be able to exploit it without the interruption of security updates to patch the system flaws.

To buy some time to upgrade, some larger banks — such as JP Morgan Chase — are negotiating deals with Microsoft to get an extension of the technical support for one more year, allowing the bank to make sure the upgrade is done correctly. And, for the ATMs with Windows XP Embedded, a basic version of the software, the Microsoft support will continue until 2016.

What does this mean for ATM users?

If a bank fails to upgrade the software or get an extension on the technical support, then its customers’ financial information is much more vulnerable to a breach or hack, especially when compared to ATMs with updated software. Luckily there are some steps that you can take to educate and protect yourself.

1. Ask questions: Contact your bank and ask the customer representative if the bank’s ATMs need to or will be updated. Be sure to ask for the details, such as specific dates when the ATMs will be updated and if there’s a way that you can verify that an ATM has been updated. If the representative tells you that the ATMs are already updated or do not run on Windows XP, then your financial information should remain safe.

2. Avoid the ATM: If your bank does not provide you with written documentation of when the ATMs will be updated, such as a letter or email, or can’t provide you with the details of the update when you call, then you may want to consider avoiding the ATM for a little bit or at least until you can guarantee the safety of the ATMs. Instead, rely more on other forms of banking, such as completing transactions with a teller inside of the bank and using online banking. Once the bank can guarantee the upgrade of the software, you can feel safe completing transactions at the ATM.

3. Prepare when traveling: Whether you’re planning a month-long trip or a weekend getaway to another country, you should make sure that you bring all the cash you will need. This is especially true if you are traveling abroad because considering that 95% of ATMs around the world are running Windows XP, there’s a chance that some of them will not be updated in time for the April 8 deadline. That being said, it’s also important to remember that it’s not safe to travel with a large amount of cash, so a good alternative may be to bring a small amount of cash and some travelers checks or even a prepaid debit or credit card — which will help protect your financial information in the event that the ATM is breached.

If your personal computer still runs on Windows XP, be sure to follow these steps to protect it from a hacking or security breach. Also, visit our identity theft protection blog to learn more tips on how to protect your identity in every aspect of your life.