Cradle rocks PIN fraudsters

2 min read

A device which magnifies PIN entry device keypads for visually impaired customers has proven effective at preventing criminals stealing PIN numbers.

A device which magnifies PIN entry device (PED) keypads for visually impaired customers has proven effective at preventing criminals stealing PIN numbers by “shoulder surfing” or using cameras at cash points.

Its inventor, Neil Radford, an Enterprise Fellow at the University of Warwick, was inspired to research PED security during a previous job providing data communication infrastructure to the banking industry, where encryption was paramount. “I realised security was needed at the customer end from talking to a police office friend who was investigating fraud,” said Radford.

His research led him to look into accessibility for people with problems seeing the keypad. “At ATMs, banks were facing the challenge of producing bigger keypads for visually impaired customers but weighing that against the decreased security that would entail. Then chip and PIN came along and our research evolved into that arena. Around the same time, the criminal community developed ‘skimming', using cameras to record key presses or peering over customers’ shoulders. I engaged with a criminal psychologist to research that.”

Radford also talked to the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) to see how visually impaired people were getting on with chip and PIN. “I found out it wasn’t just partially sighted people who were having problems,” he said. “Ten million people in the UK wear glasses. Many of them need separate pairs for long distance and reading. The retailers were interested in improving transaction times while increasing security.”

Radford worked with colleagues in the University of Warwick's Manufacturing Group to create an easy to use cradle for chip and PIN keypads, which incorporates a magnifying lens. The patent pending solution not only enlarges the pin pad display but also improves security. The view is enhanced to any user standing directly in front of the keypad, but is distorted to a casual observer, a shoulder surfer or hidden cameras installed by fraudsters.

Radford also consulted the Photonics Cluster at Aston University and the Optical Physics Laboratory at Warwick University to develop the lens. “The biggest challenge was keeping the optical clarity,” he said. “We had to ensure security wasn’t compromised and that covert CCTV cameras couldn’t see the keypad, but at the same time provide better visibility at the point of sale.”

As well as benefiting visually impaired and partially sighted people, vendors also see improved transaction times, as longsighted users do not have to find and put on their reading glasses.

Radford has now established a company, Secure Access Solutions Limited, to market the PED Cradle. Several chip and PIN PED vendors have expressed an interest.

The next step is an RNIB-sponsored pre-commercialisation pilot of 35 cradles in one of Boots’ main city centre stores. The RNIB is also carrying out its own independent review.

Secure Access Solutions has identified that the same issues affect transactions at ATM Cash points and is developing a range of complementary products for ATMs, which are scheduled for further trials later this year with a UK bank.