Australia’s first large scale hackathon combines innovative approach with crowdsourced talent to find national missing persons

Missing Persons Hackathon

In what will be considered a world first, today 354 participants will gather across ten locations in Australia to generate leads for 12 national missing person cases for the Australian police.

The AustCyber Canberra Cyber Security Innovation Node has partnered with the Australian Federal Police, the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre and Trace Labs to deliver the first ever National Missing Persons Hackathon in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.

Today’s event will see the gathering of ethical hackers and investigators using online investigative techniques within the bounds of the law to find new leads on real missing persons cases in Australia. Contestants will be 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. The goal of this is to generate new leads on cases that can provide assistance to the relevant Australian policing jurisdictions in their investigations.

“This is the first large-scale, crowdsourced open-source intelligence gathering of its kind in Australia for missing persons, and a first for a country to participate simultaneously in this manner,” said Linda Cavanagh, Manager of the Canberra Cyber Security Innovation Node.

“This is where innovation brings social value, creating an event which is unlike any other hackathon or capture the flag (CTF) challenge. Theoretical concepts are put aside so participants can operate in real time, with real (open source) data for real human impact.”

ACT is host to the main event, which will be live streamed to all participating locations.

Twelve missing persons will be selected from existing National Missing Person Coordination Centre cases for participants to collect OSINT on and to generate new information. All leads generated on the missing person cases will be handed to the Australian Federal Police and National Missing Persons Coordination Centre after the completion of the event.

“Police often say that the community are our eyes and ears. We’re taking this concept to a new level,” said Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz.

“By involving the community, and in this case hackers, into the search for missing persons, we hope to solve more long-term missing person cases in a way that police could not do alone.”

The concept of this crowdsourced platform originates from not-for-profit organisation Trace Labs. They have delivered their CTF model throughout Canada and the United States, but this is first time they’ve run simultaneous events across a whole country.

“Our goal is to partner with law enforcement and organisations like AustCyber on crowdsourced intelligence initiatives to enhance public safety around the world and enable the community to be involved in tackling complex social issues” said Adrian Korn, Director of OSINT Operations & Strategic Initiatives at Trace Labs.

The partnership between the AustCyber Canberra Node, Australian Federal Police, National Missing Persons Coordination Centre and Trace Labs demonstrates the value they bring together, including:

  • harnessing the Australian community to generate leads and assist police in their investigations on missing person cases;
  • showcasing the different elements to cyber security such as ‘ethical hackers’;
  • highlighting the diversity of cyber security careers, skills and the people who hold them; and
  • demonstrating cyber security crowdsourcing as a technical value add element to law enforcement as well as a social value add element to the community.

The National Sponsors of the event are Telstra, Fifth Domain, Australian Information Security Association, and in partnership, the Commonwealth Bank and University of New South Wales SECEdu.

The National Missing Persons Hackathon is held during Australian Cyber Week 2019, which runs from 7-11 October 2019.


Further information

AustCyber Canberra Cyber Security Innovation Node (Canberra Node)

The establishment of the Canberra Node is intended to strengthen the ACT region’s cyber security industry and align with the priority actions identified in AustCyber’s Sector Competitiveness Plan. It is a partnership between AustCyber and ACT Government.

The Canberra Node’s strategic work plan identifies three principles to provide a proactive approach in addressing issues identified in the ACT, including:

  • fostering collaboration among government, private sector and academia to create a sharper focus towards innovation and growth;
  • identifying opportunities to increase the supply of talent, enhance capacity of the existing workforce and strengthen educational pathways; and
  • developing a strong and confident ecosystem that supports creating mature, market-ready and competitive local businesses.


    Australian Federal Police, National Missing Persons Coordination Centre

    The National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) is a non-operational arm of the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The NMPCC was established in 2006 to drive national coordination in response to missing persons in Australia, and to complement the investigative role of State and Territory police. Its mandate is to reduce the incidence and impact of missing persons in Australia and as a function of the AFP, the NMPCC is funded by the Federal Government.



    Trace Labs

    Trace Labs is a not-for-profit organisation designed to help people on the worst day of their lives. Trace Labs leverages a crowdsourced intelligence platform to help with this situation. They have taken the traditional Capture the Flag (CTF) competition that we see at every information security conference and evolved it. It is no longer a theoretical exercise but instead they take the efforts of the contestants to help law enforcement locate missing persons. This takes place through open source intelligence (OSINT) gathering. The CTF focus is OSINT and all flags are for details on the missing persons. These details are collected and then submitted to law enforcement.



    Media enquiries

    Linda Cavanagh, Canberra Cyber Security Innovation Node Manager

    Phone: 0481 911 679

    Email: [email protected]


    Olivia Grandjean-Thomsen, Communication and Engagement Manager at AustCyber

    Phone: 0402 136 788

    Email: [email protected]


    Australian Federal Police Media Team

    Phone: (02) 5126 9297

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