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Lax airport checks are facilitating wildlife traffickers’ global illicit trade, new study finds

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facilitating wildlife traffickers’ global illicit trade

Wildlife criminals are highly dependent on commercial air transportation systems to smuggle the endangered species and animal parts they sell, according to a new study produced by non-profit research organisation C4ADS.

The report, which examines worldwide airport seizures of illegal wildlife products between 2009 and last year, identified instances of smuggling in at least 136 countries across the globe, with data for 2017 showing a large increase in seizures of rhino horn, which nearly tripled compared to the previous year.

Data collated for the study revealed that smugglers who traffic illicit wildlife items such as ivory, rhino horn, reptiles, birds, pangolins, marine products, and mammals by air travel typically rely on major hub airports.

In total, these categories account for about 81% of all trafficked wildlife, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and serve as indicators for broader trends within illicit wildlife trafficking.

The report recommends that airport authorities should make greater efforts to identify and prosecute wildlife smugglers, noting that traffickers currently benefit from customs screening primarily focussing on security rather than contraband.

Evidence suggests smugglers actively avoid airports that have a good record on illicit wildlife seizures, and instead target sites that have a reputation for paying little attention to the goods that pass through customs checks.

The authors of the report suggest this information should help customs workers plan for shifts in wildlife trafficking activity, and allow them to focus resources on flights and airports that should be considered as high risk.

Jon Godson, Assistant Director of Environment at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), commented: “Many airlines recognise the need to combat wildlife trafficking and are stepping up as leaders in this global effort. Airline staff spend more time with passengers and baggage than customs authorities and can provide a key source of intelligence for enforcement agencies.”

Some analysts have claimed that the global trade in illicit wildlife and animal parts has become the world’s fourth-largest organised crime market, and is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Wildlife seizure data is vital for identifying, understanding and combatting wildlife trafficking in airports around the world,” said report author Mary Utermohlen.

“Still, it’s important to recognise that seizure data of any kind only provides a partial window into the true nature of trafficking activity. What seizures can’t show are the patterns and routes associated with trafficking activity that is not detected, seized or reported by enforcement authorities.”

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches, ransomware attacks and cryptojacking last year, Interpol says

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches

Southeast Asia experienced “significant” levels of cyber crime in 2019, including major data breaches, crippling ransomware attacks and a huge rise in cryptojacking, according to a new report from Interpol.

In its ASEAN Cyberthreat Assessment 2020, the International law enforcement agency revealed that the region saw an increase in botnet detections and the hosting of Command and Control (C2) servers in the first half of last year.

Interpol also said phishing campaigns increased in both quantity and sophistication, using advanced social engineering techniques.

Data obtained by Interpol’s private partners for the report showed that the region suffered 5% of global business email compromise (BEC) attacks, with Singapore and Malaysia recording the highest BEC cases of all ASEAN countries (54% and 20%, respectively).

Over the first half of last year, Southeast Asia saw a 50% rise in banking malware attacks compared to the whole of 2018, with prominent malware families such as the Emotet16 banking Trojan shifting from banking credential theft to the distribution business.

Elsewhere, the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin resulted in the rise of crypto-ransomware and cryptojacking, the latter of which involves hackers exploiting unsuspecting computer users’ processing power and bandwidth to mine virtual currency after infiltrating their systems using purpose-built malware.

The Interpol ASEAN Cybercrime Operations Desk concluded its report by vowing to enhance cyber crime intelligence for effective responses to cyber crime in the region, strengthen cooperation for joint operations against cyber crime, and develop regional capacity and capabilities to combat cyber crime.

Commenting on the contents of the report, Interpol’s Director of Cyber Crime Craig Jones said: “In today’s highly digitalised world, the sooner countries are aware of a threat, the sooner they can take steps to mitigate the risk and minimise the cyber threats coming from all directions.

“To this end, we encourage law enforcement in all countries to be actively engaged in collective efforts against these threats, particularly through sharing intelligence and the formulation of a joint operation framework to effectively reduce the global impact of cybercrime.”

In January, Interpol teamed up with several Southeast Asian law enforcement agencies to crack down on cryptojacking.

They used intelligence obtained from police and partners in the cyber security industry to identify a global cryptojacking campaign facilitated by hackers in the region through the exploitation of a vulnerability in MikroTik routers.

Interpol’s Operation Goldfish Alpha also sought to raise awareness of what is a relatively unknown crime in the region, and teach local law enforcement agencies how to deal with it effectively.

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Spanish police discover subterranean counterfeit cigarette factory near Costa del Sol

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subterranean counterfeit cigarette factory

Police in Spain have raided an underground illicit cigarette factory run by a British organised crime network.

In an operation supported by Europol and law enforcement agencies from countries including Lithuania, Poland and Britain, investigators found the subterranean bunker close to the Costa del Sol, rescuing six Eastern European modern slaves who had been forced by the gang to work and sleep at the facility.

The factory, which had been built nearly four metres underground, is said to have been capable of producing illicit cigarettes at the rate of 3,500 every hour.

Police said the workers they found at the factory had effectively been “left to die” after suspects arrested above the ground turned off the system that provided them with clean air in order to hide the bunker from law enforcement agents attending the site.

In total, 20 suspected members of the gang thought to be responsible for the factory were arrested in the operation, including a Briton who is said to have been on the run from authorities in the UK after failing to return to prison while on temporary release while serving a sentence linked to drug and forgery offences.

Thirteen separate locations were raided by police in the operation.

These raids resulted in the seizure of more than one million counterfeit cigarettes, 20kgs of herbal cannabis, 144kgs of marijuana, three weapons, eight GPS tracking devices, and a jamming device that the network likely used to help its members avoid the attention of police.

Investigators said the counterfeit cigarettes the gang made in its underground bunker were produced in unsanitary conditions and consisted of low-quality ingredients and components.

Detectives were forced to use a forklift truck to move a shipping container that was concealing the entrance of the underground facility.

In a statement, Spain’s Guardia Civil said most of the suspects arrested were British citizens, including the alleged 30-year-old ringleader of the conspiracy, who was identified only by the initials DD.

Another of the detainees, identified only as AR, was said to have been a Lithuanian national listed as having fled from justice in his home country while wanted in relation to smuggling offences.

In a statement relating to its involvement in the operation, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.

“Europol also provided on-the-spot operational support by deploying two analysts to Malaga, Spain, to provide real-time analytical support.”

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US customs workers find counterfeit LED screens worth more than $1.5 million in rail freight

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counterfeit LED screens worth more than $1.5 million

Customs officers working in the US state of Minnesota have prevented a shipment of 1,088 counterfeit LED screens from entering the country.

The fake screens were discovered during an inspection of rail containers at the International Falls port of entry, where goods pass into the US from Canada.

It is estimated that the shipment would have had a recommended retail value of $1,529,600 if the products had been genuine.

The screens, which were found by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers on February 12 in two 40-foot containers and were destined for delivery in Minnesota, were said to have originated from China.

Securing Industry reported that the bogus items infringed intellectual property rights held by Illinois-based Watchfire, which is one of the largest makers of indoor and outdoor digital signs in the US.

A CBP spokeswoman told American Shipper that the containers on which the counterfeit LED screens had been travelling arrived at Canada’s Port of Vancouver before being transported by rail to the International Falls port of entry.

Commenting on the discovery, Anthony Jackson, International Falls Port Director, said: “CBP is focused on identifying and intercepting counterfeit merchandise and products. The enforcement of trade laws at US ports of entry remains a high priority for us.

“Counterfeiting adversely affects the ability of lawful copyright holders to profit from their original ideas. Counterfeiting also harms consumers because manufacturers of forged products have little motivation to use safe, high-quality materials in their products.”

When US customs officers identify goods they believe may infringe a company’s intellectual property rights, the items are seized before specialists from the agency work with rights holders to establish the authenticity or otherwise of the products in question.

CBP has said disrupting the flow of illicit goods is one of its top priorities, and has noted that the importation of bogus products, many of which come from China, can damage the US economy and threaten the health and safety of people living in America.

Over the three months prior to last November’s Black Friday weekend, customs officers in Louisville in the US state of Kentucky seized 164 shipments of fake items worth more than $95 million.

Back in September, CBP revealed that its agents at a cargo sorting centre in Kentucky had discovered counterfeit bracelets and other jewellery that would have been worth an estimated $90 million had they been genuine.

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