* Valentin Boanta in prison for helping skimmer gang
* Says no ATM is currently secure against attack
* Claims invention could eradicate skimming heists
By Radu Marinas
VASLUI, Romania, May 17 Valentin Boanta, sitting
in his jail cell, proudly explains the device he has invented
which, he says, could make the world's ATMs impregnable even to
tech-savvy criminals like himself.
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 said 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.
Boanta says his arrest in 2009 and trial brought contrition,
as he realised the impact of his actions and felt an urge to
make amends. It also brought the former industrial design
student a flash of technical inspiration.
"When I got caught I became happy. This liberation opened
the way to working for the good side," Boanta said.
"Crime was like a drug for me. After I was caught, I was
happy I escaped from this adrenaline addiction," he said. "So
that the other part, in which I started to develop security
solutions, started to emerge."
It was during his trial that he got down to work. The stage
for Boanta's product pitch these days is the book-lined cell in
the northeastern Romanian town of Vaslui he shares with five
pickpockets and burglars.
"All ATMs have ageing designs so they are prone to
vulnerability, they are a very weak side of the banking
industry," he said.
"Every ATM can be penetrated through a skimming crime. My
security solution, SRS, makes an ATM unbreachable."
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.
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.
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," said 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
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 $1 billion from U.S. accounts
in 2012, according to the U.S. 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.