Can an ATM see you?

As any fan of the TV series Breaking Bad will know, an ATM can not only see you but can recognise you – and your car – from across the street. It knows who you are before you’ve even stepped up to the machine.

How? Because it’s fitted with cameras. Lots of them.

Some you can see, and some you can’t. Look closely and you’ll see a camera just like the one in your laptop or smartphone embedded in or near the screen … in fact, although you probably never noticed before, these were first used in ATMs way before they were added to mobile phones or laptops.  Look closer still and you’ll find a ‘pinhole’ no bigger than the letter ‘o’. It might be above or to one side of the keypad. This hole has a tiny high-definition camera behind it which sees – and records – what you are doing, how you are doing it, and what others are doing around you.

Both cameras are tracking your behavioural biometrics, including the way you walk up to the machine and the way you use the keypad. (Other devices look at your physical biometrics such as your fingerprint, your eyes, the shape of your face, or the way you talk, but that’s for another post another day).

More modern versions of the ATM – those which can accept deposits and cash cheques (checks) – have two or three more cameras inside which authenticate whatever is being deposited by looking at its shape, its conformity – that the security features are where they should be – and its colour … including those in the infra-red and ultra-violet spectrum. (Other devices are also used for this purpose, but that’s also another subject for another day.)

Finally, look around and you’ll see a video-surveillance camera bolted to a nearby wall.

One way or another, all these cameras are looking after your security. Each one – or rather the algorithmic computer they are linked to – can tell the difference between normal and unusual activity. If any of your biometrics are wrong, if someone is behaving strangely nearby, or you have inserted something other than a genuine banknote or cheque, the ATM will lock itself down and the relevant security services alerted.