Say ‘goodbye’ to Bonnie, Clyde and Danny: The future of the heist

If the recent $45 million ATM cyber-heist is any indication, Hollywood will probably want to start reconsidering how screenplays are crafted.


From left to right: Matt Damon stars as Linus Caldwell, George Clooney as Danny Ocean and Bead Pitt as Rusty Ryan in “Ocean’s Thirteen.” (Melinda Sue Gordon Copyright 2006 Warner / MELINDA SUE GORDON)

The gritty gun-toting criminals such as Bonnie and Clyde have grown even smaller in the rearview mirror. So has Danny Ocean and his more sophisticated team for that matter. They’ve all been replaced by full-on cyber-hackers. The final nails are being driven into the coffin of the One Big Heist plot—where street-smart criminals dream up clever ways to hit a single target. We now have massive bank heists sub-divided into tens of thousands of smaller jobs carried out simultaneously at different points around the globe. Almost gone are the TNT explosions and locksmithing once deemed necessary to get into heavily-fortified bank vaults or heavily-armored trucks. Today, there are unarmed “cashing crews” dutifully taking money out of soft targets such as ATM machines one transaction at a time.

The sheer size and audacity of the $45 million cyber-heist must have criminal investigators and bank cyber-security experts scratching their heads. Personal identification numbers have replaced vault combinations as cyber-thieves’ most desired commodities. Pre-set withdrawal limits are now more important than the cash count in a teller’s drawer. That’s leading to a dramatic increase in the scale and scope of the bank heist. In round 1, the cyber-hackers stole $5 million by carrying out 4,500 ATM transactions, each time overriding pre-set withdrawal limits. In eround 2, they stole $40 million by carrying out 36,000 transactions worldwide. That $45 million total haul makes it one of the biggest bank thefts in history.

Who needs machine guns and masks when you can walk up to an ATM, withdraw money with just about any plastic card that’s been illegally re-programmed to act as a debit card, and then load up your backpack with cash? In both rounds of attacks, it appears that criminal flash mobs carried out their systematic ATM attacks in hours, all while being carefully monitored by cyber-hackers overseas. Compare that to the days of Bonnie and Clyde, when it took the gangster duo years of crisscrossing the country to carry out their heists.

The daring $45 million ATM heist should generate a lot of questions about the security of money both now and into the future. Now that the Digital Wallet is fast becoming a reality, another weakness may emerge in the defenses of our financial system—this time, via our smart phones. Who knows? Maybe the next, great Hollywood heist movie will involve foreign cyber-hackers operating as digital pickpockets able to steal money from mobile wallets. Scores of Hollywood actors could make cameo appearances as dim-witted “bag men” withdrawing cash from glamorous locales around the world. Add in a few anarchist hackers carrying around suitcases full of Bitcoins and you might just have a bankable Hollywood screenplay.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.

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