The RBI has directed banks to operate their ATMs only after the installed computer systems have received a special Windows update to protect them from a malware impacting systems across the world. This directive comes in the wake of global system outages due to WannaCry ransomware.
“RBI has asked banks to update specific Windows patches on ATMs urgently and not to operate ATM machines unless updates are in place,” Times of India (ToI) reported quoting an unnamed official with a public sector bank. Banks have passed on the directive to their management service providers. ATM operators, however, say that there is no threat to customer data or money.
“The objective of ransomware is to shut down critical information in networks and prevent access to this data. In the case of ATMs, there is no data stored in the machine. Neither is there storage of any kind of logic that will block transactions. Even if a machine were to get affected it can be reformatted and put to use immediately,” Manohar Bhoi, president (technology) at Electronic Payments and Services — a management services firm that handles ATMs for public sector banks — told ToI. Applying software patches is done by the vendors who supply the ATM and according to Bhoi, this can be done remotely and usually the vendors run their tests on the patch before an update.
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On Friday, media reports started highlighting that a ransomware attack had brought down computer systems in UK hospitals. It soon emerged that the attack was global with reports of affected computers coming in from all over the globe.
The ransomware – Wanna Cry – infected computers running on older versions of Microsoft operating systems like XP, locking access to files on the computer and encrypted all the data stored on the hard drives. In lieu of decrypting the data, Wanna Cry demanded payment in bitcoin, a crypto-currency.
ATM machines are seen as being vulnerable since almost all of them run on Windows software. Also, over 60% of the 2.25 lakh ATMs in the country run on the outdated Windows XP. Microsoft has issued a statement saying that it has developed and released a special update for Windows XP although it does not service this particular version of its operating system anymore.
With a global outbreak of this ransomware, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had instructed the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (ICERT or CERT-In) to gather information about it. Earlier on Saturday CERT-In was reported to have issued an advisory asking computer users in India to upgrade their systems to the latest Windows patch level.
The IT ministry reached out to key stakeholders like RBI, National Payments Corporation of India, NIC and UIDAI (Aadhaar) to advise them to protect their systems against ‘Wanna Cry’ ransomware to ensure that the digital payments ecosystem in the country is protected.