Weird Nature Hackers Are Using Trail Cameras To Kill Endangered Animals  

Eric Vega
11 items

The world is evolving and changing at an ever faster rate thanks to advancements in technology, but sadly with innovation inevitably comes abuse. Cyber criminals are becoming more of an issue for society, but the repercussions aren't only felt by humans. It turns out that online data is putting endangered animals at risk as high-tech poachers take advantage of the latest technological advancements.

As if conservationists didn't have enough threats to contend with, it seems that hackers who poach animals are becoming more successful every day. By breaking into technologies that are used to track endangered animals and using crowd-sourcing data via social media, poachers can now hunt down rare and elusive wildlife with unprecedented ease. The number of endangered animals being poached has skyrocketed in recent years, most likely due to these new technologies and tactics. The only way to combat this new threat to the planet's wildlife is to educate ourselves on the issue and push for the implementation of stricter security measures involving the data kept about vulnerable animals.

Trail Cameras And Location Collars Can Be Hacked By Poachers

Trail Cameras And Location Col... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Hackers Are Using Trail Cameras To Kill Endangered Animals
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons

Any computerized system can be cracked, it's just a matter of putting in the time. This also extends to research equipment set up by scientists to track and monitor wild animals. Trail cameras, location collars, and other research devices are just the latest targets of widespread cyber attacks that have gotten more sophisticated over the years.

Poachers can use stolen information to pinpoint the locations of exotic animals in real time, making it incredibly easy to hunt the animals down. An incident at the Panna Tiger Reserve in India raised concerns after an unknown hacker attempted to access a researcher's email account. The intended target was a file containing the tracking collar data for an adolescent Bengal tiger, sensitive intel that the researcher had open access to. Luckily the systems automated security protocols managed to prevent the intruder from accessing the data, but the incident illuminated the presence of a major threat to endangered animals everywhere. 

Don't Post Photos Of Endangered Animals With Location Tags On Them

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Photo: Simponafotsy/Wikimedia Commons

Scientists aren't the only people who need to adapt to this new security threat. Many visitors to national parks around the world are contributing to poaching efforts without even realizing it. Poachers are now monitoring social media posts that include location-tagged pictures of endangered animals, and they're using that information to pinpoint the animals' exact locations. It's nearly impossible for park staff to manage these posts or prevent them from going online, so it's on tourists to restrain themselves when it comes to posting online.

If you take a picture of an endangered animal, wait until you are far away from the park to post it. It is also recommended that, rather than posting the original photo that likely has a built in location tag, you take a screenshot of the photo and upload that instead. This will guarantee that the animal's location data doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

Crowd Sourcing Sites Are A Godsend To Poachers

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Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Poachers will stop at nothing to acquire specimens that they can sell on the black market - and that includes using the very research conservationists collect to try and help protect endangered animals. Publicly accessible research papers on the Internet are being used by poachers to track down rare and vulnerable animals. A new movement is asking researchers not to publish the location records and range of common poaching targets, including species that are threatened with extinction. 

Citizen-run science websites are also at risk of being abused by poachers. Many scientists rely on data gathered by regular people who upload pictures and other information about species they encounter in the wild. These sites often create maps using the data, which are then freely available for viewing by anyone with an Internet connection. This makes it easy for local poachers to pinpoint exactly where and at what time an animal was spotted in a certain area.

Manufacturers May Be Understating The Severity Of The Issue

Manufacturers May Be Understat... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Hackers Are Using Trail Cameras To Kill Endangered Animals
Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Wikimedia Commons

While the scientists using these technologies are already dealing with the unintended consequences of data gathering, equipment manufacturers are reluctant to admit that there's a problem at all. The reasons are obvious: telling the world that your product is hackable is not the best sales pitch. If the data about endangered animals is to be protected, it needs to start with manufacturers admitting the problem and doing everything they can to improve the security functions of their products.