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Digital forensics training course from INTERPOL for wildlife investigations

INTERPOL recently held the first digital forensics course to train wildlife crime investigators. The course was run by INTERPOL’s Environmental Security Programme in collaboration with the Digital Forensics Lab at the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI).

Twenty specialist officers from 10 countries across Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) were represented on the course which was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In view of the increasing amounts of digital evidence recovered during wildlife crime investigations, the training equipped participants with the skills to extract and analyse data from seized electronic devices and to identify and securely handle devices which could potentially contain data of interest for a criminal investigation.

In recent months, INTERPOL has already provided assistance to several countries in extracting and analysing data from phones seized as part of national investigations into wildlife trafficking. The training is part of INTERPOL’s ongoing commitment to ensure law enforcement officers have the knowledge and skills to keep up with the criminal use of digital tools in the illegal trafficking of wildlife, including via online platforms and on the Darknet.

In 2013, an INTERPOL project supported by IFAW to identify the drivers and scale of the illegal online trade in ivory, revealed hundreds of items worth approximately EUR 1.45 million for sale on Internet auction sites across nine European countries during a single two-week period.

‘Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Darknet’ report from INTERPOL

The Darknet is any overlay network (examples could be Tor) that can be accessed only with specific software, configurations, or authorisation, often using non-standard communications protocols and ports. It is a part of the Deepweb, which is the part of the Internet is not indexed by standard search engines. The Deepweb is estimated to be around 500 times the size of the visible Web.

In June, an INTERPOL research report found limited, but clear evidence of criminals using the Darknet to sell illicit wildlife products from critically endangered species such as rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger parts and products. The report was funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the US Department of State and the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

Conducted between December 2016 and April 2017, the research found 21 advertisements, some dating back to 2015, offering rhino horn products, ivory and tiger parts. The report also showed cryptocurriencies, such as Bitcoin, were being used for the majority of trading.

Tania McCrea-Steele, IFAW Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead, “The good news is that researchers found very limited amounts of products available for sale on the Darknet. The bad news is that INTERPOL researchers found adverts selling parts of some of the most critically endangered species on earth on one of the most difficult to regulate Internet platforms.”

The currently relatively low usage could be attributable to the generally low level of enforcement in relation to illicit wildlife products making trade elsewhere easier, high and inconsistent prices, buyers’ concerns that they may be scammed and the difficulties attached to shipping products.

However, the report also states that wildlife traders are likely to be attracted to the Darknet because of its strong anonymity and security mechanisms, with sellers already familiar with the encryption technology, financial instruments and communication methods commonly used in this anonymous space.

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