Pepper spray-armed ATM misfires

ATM cash machineAccording to media reports, a bank in Cape Town, South Africa, has equipped its cash machines with pepper spray to deter criminals from tampering and stealing money.

Absa Bank has installed the disorientating pepper spray in 11 of its ATMs, after several cash machines were blown up by thieves last year. If a camera on the ATM determines that the machine is being tampered with (for instance, to install a skimming device or explosives), then the pepper spray is released.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if the technology is fool-proof. During a routine maintenance operation this weekend at an ATM in Fish Hoek, the pepper spray was released by accident – meaning three people had to receive treatment.

Ouch! A false positive perhaps?

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Maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised by this latest development in ATM security. After all, it’s also legal to have flamethrowers installed on your car in South Africa to prevent carjackers.


Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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