An imprisoned Romanian cyber-criminal has turned his skills to making the world’s ATM’s impregnable to card skimmers.
Valentin Boanta, 33, is six months into a five-year sentence for supplying gadgets an organised crime gang used to conceal ATM skimmers, which can copy data from an unsuspecting ATM user's card so a clone can be created.
He says he had started to make the devices for the sheer excitement of it and denies ever planning to use them himself, saying he only sold them to others, but he says his arrest in 2009 gave the former industrial design student an urge to make amends.
Boanta says his Secure Revolving System (SRS) can be installed in any ATM. It allows the bank card to be inserted longer side first and then rotates it to prevent skimmers being able to lock on to the magnetic data strip. The system returns the card to its user with a reverse rotation.
Outwardly it is a trapezoidal metallic box around 6 inches (15 cm) long with the card slot in the middle.
"When I got caught I became happy. This liberation opened the way to working for the good side," Boanta says.
"Crime was like a drug for me. After I was caught, I was happy I escaped from this adrenaline addiction," he adds. "So that the other part, in which I started to develop security solutions, started to emerge."
The SRS, funded and developed by a technology firm near Bucharest called MB Telecom, is patented and won an award this year at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva.
"All ATMs have ageing designs so they are prone to vulnerability, they are a very weak side of the banking industry," he says.
"Every ATM can be penetrated through a skimming crime. My security solution, SRS, makes an ATM unbreachable."
The inventor and company are not yet saying how much it will cost, but insist it will be available soon.
"He fully deserves such recognition," says SRS co-inventor and MB Telecom president Mircea Tudor. "He's taking part in improving Romania's image abroad and he'll surely join our team when released."
Romania has a deep well of technical expertise stemming from the time of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who backed computer research and technical education.
Digital piracy flourished after his violent overthrow in 1989, as people who could not afford proprietary products bought cheap copies instead.
Romanian hackers stole about $1bn from US accounts in 2012, according to the US embassy in Bucharest. A report by Verizon said Romania was the world's second-biggest hacking centre after China. The FBI has even set up an office in Romania and helped to train specialist police agents.