Cooperation with IFAW

Who does what and why at all? Here you can find out!


For some time now, Christian and I have been financially supporting IFAW both privately and through CyberShield. IFAW – International Fund of Animal Welfare – has been working worldwide for people, animals and their habitats since 1969. One day, when I realized that he is also active in the field of cybercrime by countering the illegal trade of wildlife and/ or its parts, 100 light bulbs turned on simultaneously in my head and an idea was born: Why not support IFAW in a practical way and at the same time give our dedicated employees the chance to dive deeper into the topics of investigation, forensics and tracking? Christian was quickly convinced and so this wonderful success story took its course in September 2022. Today we are at a point where we can already see the added value of our work. I can’t put into words how proud I am of (alphabetically) Alex, Hermela, Jannik, Jonas, Julio and Till!


Cybercrime has been on my mind for some time for a variety of reasons, so there was no resistance when Adela approached me and said we could help IFAW fight the illegal online trade in protected wildlife or parts of it. Personally, I can only shake my head when I hear stories like that of the “sky-blue dwarf day gecko” (Lygodactylus williamsi), which became an endangered breed within only a few years due to wild capture. Despite strict protection and various prohibitions, a single group of trappers alone took about 15% of the species population!

We are not rangers who can take action against poaching on the ground, but we can work to make it harder for traffickers to sell. For this reason, we have proposed a multi-stage project to IFAW, which starts with automated research in public platforms and extends to closed groups (e.g. Facebook trade groups or similar) in the normal internet and finally to sophisticated research in the Darknet. Within the project we have already mastered some challenges and many more (known as well as unknown) are still ahead of us. But I am optimistic that with our team we will master one after the other!


“The illegal trade of protected animals and their body parts is terrible, you don’t even want to imagine the living conditions of these poor creatures! Our team tries step by step to fight against the illegal sale of protected animals and animal parts (such as tusks or fur) on the Internet. In order to protect our colleagues from potential sellers and seller circles when searching for illegal trade, I am working on a solution to surf the internet anonymously. The goal is to protect one’s identity and minimize the digital fingerprints our computers, big and small, leave on the Internet.”


When one thinks of cybercrime and animal trafficking, images of ivory, rare snakes, tigers and other large species that are heavily represented in the media immediately come to most people’s minds. It is often overlooked that countless reptiles, birds, amphibians, primates, whales, cats and many other species are traded illegally. Illegal trade not only endangers these species, but also threatens their existence. I have been studying the issue and doing research on species affected by animal trafficking. The primary focus was to understand the applicable conservation laws and to determine which species are affected and to what extent. This research has resulted in a list of over 400 entries of animal species. This list provides us with initial clues in our search for illegal animal trafficking activities.


The vast Internet, freely accessible to everyone, offers a lot of information and websites that help us every day and make our lives easier and more convenient in many areas. Let’s just take a look at what you can buy on the Internet. These days, we could furnish our entire home using only the Internet without setting foot outside our front door. Unfortunately, this also brings downsides, for example in the form of the sale of protected species all over the world. I am happy to support the team that is working against exactly these illegal activities. I use Google Dorks to find hidden information from the Google search engine. It is a special search method that can uncover hidden information with the help of certain search queries, which can help us find suspicious traders or suspicious trading platforms.


It is good that IFAW is taking action against the illegal trade of both animals and parts of animals. But it’s a cat-and-mouse game, and so far their work has been manual, which is why they’ve usually had a hard time succeeding. With

my approach of automated comparisons of online trade ads with (inter-)national animal welfare laws and lists, I would like to play a part in enabling IFAW to respond more quickly. The long-term goal is to have a program that can handle all animal welfare laws and, in combination with Till’s work, compare and analyze trade ads.


Not only do people deserve to be protected, but so do animals. I’m glad we can use our IT skills to help curb the illegal sale of protected animals. In this project, I help the team install, set up, and deploy an anonymous operating system. It allows us to track down websites and social networks dedicated to the illegal sale of protected animals without being tracked and without revealing our identity.


Nowadays, everything can be bought online, whether it’s clothes, electronic devices or food. Animals can also be bought and sold online. But who actually makes sure that the animals that are offered here by private individuals for trade are not protected? This should actually be the task of the platform operators, but their willingness to cooperate varies greatly. While some platforms such as Ebay-Kleinanzeigen or Quoka are in constant exchange with IFAW and actively fight against ads with protected animals, there are also platforms such as Terraristik, which claim that no protected animals are traded on them, but are not willing to use resources to prevent such ads. Previously, IFAW staff had to manually enter names of protected animals on such platforms and then process the ads. Now this is where my previous task comes into play. I am writing a Python script which automates this process to search such platforms for a list of names of protected animals with a few clicks and then outputs the name and link of these ads. After that, an employee only has to go through the results and check whether it is indeed an illegal report or whether the necessary papers are available, if applicable. I ran the script with a list of just under 100 protected animals. How many ads do you think the script found? Ebay-Kleinanzeigen and Quoka actually have measures against such trade and therefore the answer here is: 0. And what about Terraristik now? According to the operator, there is no illegal animal trade here, so there should be 0, right? Not quite, in fact there were 861 results. Not all of them are illegal, as some of the animals can be traded with the appropriate documents, but I think this number still gives a good idea of how much action is actually taken against illegal animal trade there.

The project continues…