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National Missing Persons Hackathon returns for a second year

As part of Australian Cyber Week 2020, The National Missing Persons Hackathon has taken place for the second year in a row, delivered through a partnership between AustCyber, the Australian Federal Polices (AFP) National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) and Trace Labs.

The event saw 650 participants, 150 judges and 75 volunteers gather across Australia and internationally via a virtual platform, to generate new leads for national missing person cases on behalf of Australian police.

This year's participant numbers are close to double that seen for the inaugural 2019 event, the organisers state.

The focus for the event

Participants are tasked with using their cyber skills to gather open source intelligence (OSINT) on long-term missing persons, using only information that is publicly available on the internet.

12 missing persons were selected from State and Territory police cases, with all leads generated on the cases handed to the relevant jurisdictions, via the AFPs NMPCC after the completion of the event.

Scaling up in 2020

Efforts to scale the event in 2020 included free OSINT foundational training specifically developed for the Australian environment; a webinar series exploring the application of OSINT; and a new website to provide up-to-date information to participants and an ongoing resource for the broader community.

In addition, the team setup a livestream at the event to provide enhanced user experience for the day, including presentations, mentoring sessions and a live scoreboard.

The concept of this crowdsourced platform originates from Canadian not-for-profit organisation Trace Labs, who deliver monthly virtual events known as Global OSINT Search Party CTFs, which allow participation from around the world on global missing person cases.

The event and the bigger picture

AustCyber national network lead and Founder of the Hackathon event Linda Cavanagh says, “We continue to up our game with education and training being our sole focus for the participants this year.

"We want to provide every possible chance to find that one piece of crucial information that could resolve or unlock a missing person case for the families and loved ones."

Trace Labs director of OSINT Operations Adrian Korn says, “The Australian cyber community have always been big supporters of the Trace Labs mission.

"With this year's Hackathon we've seen this support increase with a quick sellout in record time and active discussions on OSINT tools and techniques from participants.”

NMPCC coordinator Jodie McEwan says, “The AFP is excited to once again partner with AustCyber and Trace Labs to bring this event to life for a second year.

"After last year's success, which saw over 40 new leads provided to State and Territory police, we are eager to see what successes come out of today.”

She says, “Our focus is to provide answers to families and loved ones of long-term missing persons, as well as to raise awareness on the issue and impacts of missingness in the Australian community.

"It is innovative events like this that allow us to continue supporting the investigators who undertake this important work.”