Explaining away Ubisoft and Watch Dogs Live's ATM 'hack'

By Luke Caulfield , Updated Jul 11, 2013 06:12 PM EDT

At this point, most of use heard or saw the video (it's below in case you haven't yet) of a scuttlebutt somewhere in the great white north of Canada that saw an ATM spit out $3,000 in the middle of what looks like a mall earlier this week. Obviously, it's a nice PR stunt, and most who heard about are well aware that's all it is. But just calling shenanigans and proving shenanigans are two very different things.
Let's break it down technically first.

I reached out to Canadian ATM manufacturer Triton, the company who actually made the MAKO ATM in the video, to get some clarification on Ubisoft's stunt. As Triton's Marketing Manager, Nancy Lewandrowski points out, "there are regulations regarding ATMs - two of the major regs are EMV and ADA..."

The most basic textbook definition for EMV is "the accepted standard for credit and debit payment cards built on chip card technology developed by Europay, MasterCard, and VISA (EMVCo)." Simply put, it's a security feature to prevent credit card scamming, and it's quickly becoming a standard in most ATMs across North America. As the ATM in the video isn't equipped with it, it's not a "legitimate" ATM. ADA refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it's another standard so that the ATMs can be used by the disabled, meaning that operating parts must be in reach for people in wheel chairs, have braille and speech recognition for the blind, etc. According to Lewandrowsi, "the ATM in the video is not equipped for either. So, no ATM processor would allow transactions on that machine."

Strike one.

Anyone who has ever taken money out from an ATM, no matter how broken the thing is, money never SHOOTS out like it does in the video. It's a great, dramatic effect, but also completely based in fantasy. Lewandrowski explains this can only be the result of tampering: "Whoever shot the video obviously removed the dispenser (which like it's name is the part of the ATM that dispenses cash) and replaced it with something that would shoot out money. We have tested every dispenser that we use in our line of ATMs and have never seen that result regardless of the error."

Strike two.

As for the crime itself, what the group DeadSec was advising its legion of hockey loving hackers to do in the initial video describing the "Cracked for Cash" mission in the Watch Dogs Live app, "infiltrating his bank account," is a violation of a whole lotta laws, and could see the perpetrator charged with anything from and including fraud, theft, larceny, impersonation, and more, all punishable with several years in the clinker. With the app being a Canadian exclusive feature, and fictional evil exec Michael G. Aronson based out of Watch Dogs' setting of Chicago, the crime is taking place across country borders, which just adds to that much more time to avoid dropping the soap should the perpetrators be caught.

As far as replacing the ATM with something that would make the money shoot out, that's tampering, which carries with it a whole other array of charges. Manufacturing, possessing, and distributing ATM tampering devices are all illegal up north, let alone installing them. A group of Canadian men were caught by local authorities for scamming ATMs this past February, and were hit with all the associated charges. Think Ubisoft would really take that kind of risk?
Strike three, and for good measure, four.

Sure, it's cool to watch this sort of thing happen, money flying about, and people falling over each other to grab it. But actually doing it carries far more risk then the reward of watching a couple people squirm about, and that's if it ever took place in a real location, and not a set somewhere. Nothing but gaming sites covered the event, the actual location is never given, no one ever came forward to boast about how much Tim Hortons they could buy, all thanks to a clever ploy from Ubisoft.

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