WWF warns of ‘arms race’ with ‘cyberpoachers’ targeting endangered species

Criminals seeking to kill endangered species and sell trophies online are turning to increasingly hi-tech methods to target their prey – including cyber attacks built to steal information on where animals patrol, according to the head of the World Wildlife Fund’s Wildlife Crime division.

Speaking to Mashable, the WWF’s Crawford Allan says, “It’s like an arms race – a technology race. It’s always this constant battle of trying to get one step ahead of the poachers.”It’s always this constant battle of trying to get one step ahead of the poachers.Criminals out there are making so much money from this that they can really afford to quite readily buy technologies and use technologies that could potentially give the game away about patrolling patterns and animal locations.”

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that the trade in illegal animal products is worth up to $10 billion per year – and sales have increasingly moved online, with elephant tusks sold as “ox bone” on Chinese auction sites.

National Geographic reported last October that Krishnamurthy Ramesh, head of the monitoring program at Panna Tiger Reserve, found that attackers had tried to access his work email account – which contained emails with encrypted GPS details of an endangered Bengal tiger, sent from a $5,000 tracking collar.

The collar encrypts data, and Ramesh also received an alert to warn him that someone 600 miles from his office had attempted to access his account. No data was stolen, and the animal’s location remained a secret.

Ramesh’s tiger monitoring program responded to the hackers by using aerial drones to patrol their territory, and using wireless sensors to monitor intruders, according to IT Web’s report.

Allan says that the World Wildlife Fund is testing encrypted communications networks to keep hackers out of channels which could offer them information on the position of animals – aiming to replace unencrypted radios used by park rangers. “We helped trial a new system called an RF Mesh radio network. All the radio communications from the rangers are fed through securely.”

Speaking to National Geographic, lion conversationist Shivani Balla says that poachers sometimes seem to ‘know’ where their targets are,  “Poaching is completely different than the way it used to be in the eighties,” saying that she had heard reports of,”tech-savvy wildlife crime groups who know to enter wildlife areas and kill so many animals.”

 

Author Rob Waugh, We Live Security

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