16 Jul 2021

Seismic Detectors reliable as ever despite rise in ATM attack methods

Speaking with Paul Drillsma, Senior Product Manager at Vanderbilt International, he sums up the draw of Seismic detectors quite simply. “Once an ATM is Seismic protected, you should not be able to penetrate the ATM without setting off an alarm,” he says.

Drillsma, who has special responsibility for the management of Seismic detectors, estimates that two to three million have been deployed since the product’s conception. That is a unique popularity. Here’s why.

Thanks to Drillsma and Vanderbilt’s R&D team, Seismic detectors thrive on false alarm immunity. Drillsma explains how the detectors work. “All known types of intruder attacks generate unique vibration patterns. Each attack tool, whether they are drills, flame cutters, or explosives, produces specific mechanical vibrations, giving it a unique acoustic fingerprint,” he says.

This means that the timing, frequency, and amplitude of these acoustic fingerprints convert mechanical and thermal vibrations into electrical signals. When a Seismic detector’s bimorph sensor detects noise or vibrations, their characteristic values are analyzed precisely using a Senstec digital signal. Based on unique algorithms, these are then compared to the Seismic detector’s threat profiles to determine whether an alarm should be triggered.

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Cornel Reiser, Vanderbilt’s Region Sales Manager for Nordics, Baltics, and Eastern Europe, notes that the ability of Seismic detectors to differentiate between attacks and everyday noises is a critical part of the detector's appeal to end-users. “With Seismic detectors, routine noises that cause structure-borne sounds to be generated through the ATM will not cause false alarms. But with standard vibration detectors, cleaning personnel can often set off alarms through the vibration of their vacuum cleaners if they accidentally bump off the ATM.

“False alarms generally include expensive police call-outs. Seismic detectors, on the other hand, has a really, really low false alarm rate. So this is obviously very important as a cost-saving measure and makes Seismic detectors very popular,” Reiser states.

While Seismic detectors can methodically isolate the threat of sounds and vibrations, even the subtlest vibration can be detected early once an attack profile is identified. And when this happens, an alarm is repeatedly triggered, giving sufficient time for intervention before the intruder has managed to gain access to cash or inflict severe structural damage.

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Of course, anyone who follows the news in Ireland will recall a series of high-profile attacks on ATMs during 2019. These attacks were far from subtle as they involved ripping the ATM out of the wall with the bucket of a mechanical digger. Drillsma acknowledges that while these attacks were not designed for grace and stealth, regardless, if those ATMs were Seismic detector protected, the moment the bucket touched the bank wall, an alarm would have been triggered by the detectors.

Generally speaking, Seismic detectors protect the ATM case, and there is usually a minimum of two detectors providing cover. ATMs do differ also. For instance, your standard ATM in a petrol station or supermarket will be more vulnerable due to its portability. In contrast, ATMs in a bank weigh about half a ton and are fitted into a wall and surrounded by brick, steel, and concrete.

“Seismic detectors are one part of the ATM security system,” says Nick Pegtol. “They’re not the single solution, but they’re a necessary part of an ATM security solution.” Pegtol is Vanderbilt’s Region Manager for International Sales, and so has first-hand experience with the popularity of Seismic detectors in the marketplace. “As a best practice, I would recommend not only protecting the ATM case with detectors but also the door of the ATM safe as well. In addition, ATMs always have a small room directly behind them that is used to load cash. There will be a door entrance to this room. This too can be a weak point, and again, we recommend protecting the walls and door of this area with Seismic detectors for best practices.”