Credit card skimmers are turning up everywhere — gas stations, banks, anywhere you can find an ATM. While some external devices are easy to spot, others are tougher to identify, and in the end, your data is stolen, and your bank account is drained. These gadgets work by copying the data from the magnetic stripe on the back of the card, and either store the information locally, or is wirelessly sent to a mobile device from someone nearby.
Security researcher Salvador Mendoza and Andrés Sabas of Electronic Cats have developed a device that can warn users if a skimmer is present on the ATM they are using. Known as the Hunter Cat, the unit works by scanning the number of magnetic stripe heads of the machine in question. A series of status LEDs then flash, which translate as ok, warning, or dangerous, alerting the user to whether the machine is safe to use, or calling the police is in order.
The Hunter Cat is the same size as a credit card (only longer) and was designed using a Microchip SAM D11 microcontroller, an onboard battery, several status LEDs, magnetic strip readers, and four pieces of metal. The card works by inserting it into an ATM, where the four pieces of metal act as a chip, fooling the ATM into thinking it’s a legit card.
The magnetic strip readers are positioned to be equally spaced to those in most ATMs. If the amount or spacing of the magnetic stripe heads are off, or the number of heads is inconsistent, the card then will blink one of the LEDs, stating a skimmer is present. Another will flash if the device isn’t sure if there is a skimmer present or not, and another denotes the machine is ok to use. While the Hunter Cat isn’t an end-all solution, it does look like it can bring peace of mind if users are in doubt. Electronic Cats is currently taking pre-orders for $29.90, plus $5 for shipping.