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Cyber sleuths win National Missing Persons Hackathon with nearly 100 new leads

CANBERRA, Australia: A group of cyber sleuths from Adelaide has won the National Missing Persons Hackathon, finding nearly 100 new pieces of information for police to investigate.

The team from Saab Australia was placed first out of 96 teams which took part in the first of its kind Hackathon in Australia.

As many as 350 cyber experts gathered at 10 locations around the country to generate leads for 12 of Australia’s missing-person cold cases.

Ethical hackers have helped police solve cold cases in similar hackathons held in the United States and Canada.

The winning team found 97 new pieces of information that will help police investigate the cold cases between 2007 and 2019.

Team member Ben Cornish said social media provided a lot of information they needed, however, the assumption that it would have more information about recent cases is not necessarily true.

“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.”

“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,” he said.

The hackathon participants used sophisticated but legal methods of skimming through the internet.

“Information that is out there on the internet, available for anybody to find, but isn’t necessarily easy to find,” Cornish said.

An astounding 3,912 new leads were discovered during the exercise which will be used by the police to find the 12 missing persons.

The leads included multiple aliases of missing persons, secondary social media accounts, vehicle license plate numbers, secret email addresses and travel agency accounts.

One group even found drone footage of an area from where one of the people had disappeared.

The 12 missing-person cases of the hackathon were:

  • Anthony Popic —last seen at Nannup, WA in July 2007.
  • Gary Felton — last seen at Nannup, WA in July 2007.
  • Peter Koever — last seen at Girraween, NT in December 2009.
  • Tanya Buckland — last seen at Warwick, Queensland in August 2013.
  • Tej Chitnis — last seen at Healesville, Victoria in April 2016.
  • Nazrawi Woldemichael —last seen at North Hobart, Tasmania in October 2016.
  • Zac Barnes — last seen at Thornton, NSW in November 2016.
  • Rebecca Hayward —last seen at Alice Springs, NT in January 2017.
  • Jean Policarpio —last seen at Bonner, ACT in September 2017.
  • Peter English —last seen at Tennant Creek, NT in February 2019.
  • David John Mansell —last seen at Bowden, SA in May 2019.
  • Theo Hayez — last seen at Byron Bay, NSW in May 2019.