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Technology

The Latest Threat to the Amazon Rainforest: Hackers

80beatsBy Eliza StricklandDecember 15, 2008 7:44 PM

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Trees continue to fall due to illegal logging operations in the the Amazon rainforest, and Brazil's environmental officials have discovered that those logging companies hired not just lumberjacks to get the job done, but also hackers. The hackers went to work in the Brazilian state of Pará, where the local government has

launched an online system for issuing permits to logging companies. The system tracks their total output and simply refuses to issues more permits, which are checked when the wood is hauled out in trucks [Ars Technica].

But instead of abiding by the limits on the amount of timber they could haul out of the rainforest, more than 107 companies allegedly hired hackers to access the government records and increase their timber allocations.

Andre Muggiati, a Greenpeace official in Brazil, said that "by hacking into the permit system, these companies have made their timber shipments appear legal and compliant with the forest management plans" [Wired News].

The Brazilian government has already arrested more than 30 people involved in the scandal.

Greenpeace reckons these types of computer swindles were responsible for the excess export of 1.7 million cubic metres of timber (or enough for 780 Olympic-sized swimming pools, as the group helpfully points out) before police broke up the scam last year. Brazilian authorities are suing logging firms for 2 billion reais [The Register]

, the equivalent of $833 million. The Brazilian government's announcements regarding the court cases comes just a few weeks after a distressing report found that deforestation in the Amazon had increased in 2008, and the government vowed to crack down harder on the illegal clearing of forest land. More logging companies could be implicated in the current scandal:

A Greenpeace worker in Brazil notes that the same computer system is used in other Brazilian states, so more arrests could be coming. "We've pointed out before that this method of controlling the transport of timber was subject to fraud," he said. "And this is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same computer system is also used in two other Brazilian states" [Ars Technica].

Related Content: 80beats: As Amazon Rainforest Destruction Continues, Brazil Pledges Drastic Action DISCOVER: Want to Save the Trees? Try Paying People Not to Chop Them Down

Image: flickr / P.C. Loadletter

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