As credit card skimmers have gotten smarter, they have also gotten easier to detect, thanks to Bluetooth broadcasting that announces the presence of enabled devices. Now there is an app that can wirelessly reveal the thievery technology, as reported on Wednesday (Aug. 14).
Created by a team of computer engineers, the new app, nicknamed Bluetana, can detect even the most discreet skimmers on gas pumps and bank ATMs.
Card skimmers today are largely invisible to the eye, but many contain wireless Bluetooth technology, making it easy for thieves to wirelessly download the stolen data. These skimmers can also connect to magnetic readers and keypads to swipe authenticating information like PINs and zip codes.
Developed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the app can pinpoint Bluetooth-enabled skimmers while keeping pumps and cash machines intact, the news outlet said.
The app finds Bluetooth signatures without flagging other enabled devices such as speed limit signs and fleet tracking systems, noted researcher and Ph.D. student Nishant Bhaskar.
Bluetooth devices have a unique MAC address that can be cross-referenced with information from law enforcement. The app uses signal strength to discover the exact location that a skimmer device was installed. Since its launch, the Bluetana app has found 64 Bluetooth-based skimmers that were missed by other scanning technology.
The app is not expected to go mainstream for consumers in the near future. It is currently being used by law enforcement in several U.S. states, the report noted.
Bluetana isn’t the first app to attempt to foil card skimming thieves. Sparkfun created an Android app in 2017 that set off an alarm if a skimmer was nearby. The app, dubbed Skimmer Scanner, looks for Bluetooth transmissions, talks to the source and determines whether or not it’s a skimmer. If the app detects questionable behavior, it sends an alert to customers’ smartphones.