All technology can be used for both good and evil purposes. Take infrared cameras, for example. While they can be used to provide a good indication of where your house might need a little more insulation, they can also be used by crooks to capture the details of the PIN you use each time you slip your card into an ATM to withdraw cash.
That, at least, is the opinion of a band of researchers from the University of California at San Diego (San Diego, CA, USA) who have apparently now demonstrated that the secret codes typed in by banking customers on ATMs can be recorded by a digital infrared camera due to the residual heat left behind on their keypads.
According to an article on MIT’s Technology Review web site, the California academics showed that a digital infrared camera can read the digits of a customer's PIN number on the keypad more than 80% of the time if used immediately; if the camera is used a minute later, it can still detect the correct digits about half the time.
Keaton Mowery, a doctoral student in computer science at UCS, conducted the research with fellow student Sarah Meiklejohn and professor Stefan Savage.
But even Mowery had to admit that the likelihood of anyone attacking an ATM in such a manner was low, partly due to the $18,000 cost of buying such a camera or its $2000 per month rental fee. He even acknowledged that mugging would prove a lot more reliable means to extract money from the ATM user, albeit the technique isn't quite as elegant as using an imaging system to do so.