Australia Adelaide cyber sleuths win the National Missing Persons Hackathon with almost 100 new leads
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A group of cyber sleuths from Adelaide has taken out the national missing persons "hackathon", finding nearly 100 new pieces of information for police to investigate.
The team from Saab Australia placed first out of 96 teams which took part in the.
The event was the first of its kind to be held in Australia and saw more than 350 "ethical hackers" gather at 10 locations around the country to generate leads for 12 of Australia's missing-person cold cases.
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Similar events have been held in the United States and Canada and have led to missing-persons' cases being solved.
The Adelaide team found 97 new pieces of information about the cold cases which will be provided to police to investigate.
Team member Ben Cornish said social media provided the biggest opportunities to hunt down new information.
"A key part of our strategy was going in and identifying any reference on various social media, so Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, any of those profiles where there may have been mention of the missing person, the events surrounding the disappearance or anything else that might have been connected to that person," he said.
"It was really interesting, the comments we found, particularly on Facebook articles or on news articles online, and that may be information about people who knew the missing person or who had seen them on the last day."
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Mr Cornish said the assumption there would be more information on social media about the more recent cases did not always ring true.
"It was potentially a case of the younger people being more conscious of the information they are putting out and having appropriate protections and restrictions around it that made it difficult," he said.
"[In] some of the older cases it was interesting because the people themselves didn't necessarily have a social media profile but a social media post, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, had been put up relating to them that a lot of other people had commented on."
Information is all publicly available, just hard to find
All of the information sourced is publicly available, with hackathon participants using sophisticated but legal methods of trawling the internet.
"It's all information that is out there on the internet, available for anybody to find, but isn't necessarily easy to find," Mr Cornish said.
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"One of the keys is just being naturally inquisitive and wondering where that one piece of information will take you or will lead."
In total, 3,912 new leads were found during the hackathon to be passed onto police.
Some of the leads included multiple aliases of missing persons, secondary social media accounts, licence plate numbers for vehicles, secret email addresses and travel agency accounts.
One group also found drone footage of an area from where one of the missing people disappeared.
Hackathon subjects disappeared in past 12 years
The 12 missing-person cases which were the subject of the hackathon were:
- Tanya Buckland — who was last seen at Warwick, Queensland in August 2013.
- Peter English — who was last seen at Tennant Creek, NT in February 2019.
- David John Mansell — who was last seen at Bowden, SA in May 2019.
- Jean Policarpio — who was last seen at Bonner, ACT in September 2017.
- Anthony Popic — who was last seen at Nannup, WA in July 2007.
- Gary Felton — who was last seen at Nannup, WA in July 2007.
- Peter Koever — who was last seen at Girraween, NT in December 2009.
- Rebecca Hayward — who was last seen at Alice Springs, NT in January 2017.
- Zac Barnes — who was last seen at Thornton, NSW in November 2016.
- Theo Hayez — who was last seen at Byron Bay, NSW in May 2019.
- Tej Chitnis — who was last seen at Healesville, Victoria in April 2016.
- Nazrawi Woldemichael — who was last seen at North Hobart, Tasmania in October 2016.
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Australia’s social scientists and the intelligence agencies have a new joint role in protecting the country, but may need a more tech-savvy workforce to get there. There are historical precedents for this kind of cooperation. In September 1939, just as war broke out in Europe, the Cambridge University scholar Alan Turing arrived at Bletchley Park to take up a position helping the UK government break the German codes and cipher machines. require(["inlineoutstreamAd", "c.