Hackers Find Missing People For Fun (2023)


Trace Labs is a new project where hackers compete to find missing people. Subscribe: freeth.ink/youtube-subscribe-tracelabs_description

It all started when Rob Sell, a professional search and rescue tracker who also worked in computer security, became frustrated at how nobody was looking for many of the thousands of missing people. He decided to found Trace Labs, a project which uses crowdsourcing to enlist the efforts of hackers worldwide to find them. They select missing persons cases and then award hackers points for finding information on the missing people, creating a computer forensics competition for a cause. One great opportunity is going to hacking conferences like BSIDES and DEFCON and holding events where hackers there try their hand at finding the whereabouts of missing people. It's part of a new movement towards OSINT, or Open Source Intelligence. The primary tool is searching online and using the dark web for digital fingerprints - pictures, activity, or other digital fingerprints. When successful, hackers can find information the families and law enforcement have never had before - helping their quest to track down the person, or even finding them directly.

This is the first video in Freethink’s new series Digital Detectives. In it, we meet Nathalie St-Louis, a French Canadian woman whose father disappeared 30 years ago. She heard about Trace Labs and is hoping they can provide her information or hope on his whereabouts. We then follow Rob Sell as he sets up shop at a hacking conference and recruits a team of hackers to trace Nathalie’s father and other cold cases.

What do you think? Are these amateur sleuths helping a great cause or playing a silly true crime game? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Watch on Freethink.comwww.freethink.com/technology/online-hackers-hunt-down-missing-people

Find more information on Trace Labs at www.tracelabs.org/.

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- [Interviewer] What: do you think happened? (sighs), - [Nathalie] I have a father that is missing since 1988 on Father's Day.

- [Narrator], Every year, hundreds of thousands of people go missing.

People like Nathalie's father. - [Nathalie], The police told us.

The only thing we can do is report him.


I was so upset.

- [Narrator] There aren't enough resources for the police to find everyone, so people like Nathalie are left to search for their missing people on their own.


Now a group called Trace Labs brings together hackers from around the world to use their skills to find real missing.


They've turned it into a game, where participants find clues in exchange for points, and it's working to help find them.

(mysterious music) (phone, rings) - [Nathalie] One night.

My best friend called me and said.

Hey Natalie.

Did you heard about Trace Labs? They, look for missing person, it's hackers., I, said, what?, So, I wrote a email to Robert, Sell.

I said: can you help me? And? He said yes. - [Rob], I.

Think because I'm in search and rescue, I get to see things that most people don't.

I, get to see.

All the people that go missing, and as I was paying attention to that, I noticed that there's a lot of people that go missing, that we never look.


I always wondered who is looking for those people if I'm not? And? Sometimes it's nobody., (mysterious music) - [Narrator] The person behind Trace Labs is Rob Sell.

He's, a tracker for search and rescue, and a computer security professional.

- [Rob] Trace Labs became really a blending of those two passions.

- [Narrator] As, a tracker, Rob, looks for little clues and details that paint a bigger picture about a person's direction of travel, their speed, or state of mind.

Trace Labs takes the same approach to online searching.

Finding little details about a person's online activity can add up and help lead investigators to their current location.

- [Rob] We're, addressing all those people that go missing, that nobody's looking for right, now., (sirens, scream), (intense, music) - [Narrator] Rob started Trace Labs as a way to educate people and get them involved in the process of open-source intelligence, gathering, or OSINT.

- [Rob] When.

You go to a typical conference, a security conference, there's so many different things you can do.

You can learn how to hack a car, how to hack a voting machine.

Whatever you wanna do is there.

Yet that effort is wasted in a way, because it's not used for anything else.

What we do.

Is we take all that effort and we put it into something.

That's actually gonna benefit: society.

Good morning, how you doin'? - [Student] Good.

How are you? - Not, bad, Rob Sell, nice to meet you Chris.

- [Narrator] Rob organizes events like this Capture, the Flag game, where participants use OSINT techniques to collect data that could be used to help find missing people.

- [Rob] So open-source intelligence.

It's information that you would find online on the subject.

- [Narrator] As participants gather useful information, they're awarded points towards winning prizes.


Seemingly trivial data can be important in tracking someone, down.

- [Rob] Quite often, we'll see a person will get put into human trafficking.

So we'll look for their picture, because usually we can see their tattoo or some sort of sign on their body where we can identify them.

Contestants that come in will say, wait a minute.

Are these real missing, people? And? You can see their mind change, where it's like, wow, we're actually changing people's lives.

- [Narrator] For.

This event, Rob has brought together numerous hackers and security professionals, all working to find whatever data they can about.

These missing people.

- [Rob] We, collect information on those missing persons, and then give that to law enforcement to help them to locate those missing.


- [Narrator], Nathalie's father is listed among several other missing people.

The contestants are looking for.

He's been missing for over 30 years., - [Rob] So, those are gonna, be tough, and you may get very little information on them at the end of the day, but I think any little bit that we get that we can submit to law enforcement.

Could help.

So, when you think of your digital footprint being out there, there's a concern there sometimes, but in this case, we're using it to actually locate those people.

So the more we have of you, digitally, the better off we are in some ways, right? - People are actually helping out while they're having fun, right? - [Rob], Yes., - Although, it's a serious issue-- - Right.

- It's, a great initiative.

- Yeah.

- [Narrator] In.

The years since Rob started.

Trace Labs, they've provided law enforcement with data on dozens of cases, even information about the current whereabouts of people.

- [Rob] What.

These people here are doing today is really helping law enforcement to locate those people, and that's something.

The families can really appreciate.

(mysterious music) - [Narrator] After two days.

The team finds no new information on Nathalie's father.

But groups, like Trace Labs, mean you don't have to search on your own.

He's still listed, and contestants are still looking for any data.

They can find.

Sharing that burden for even a day or two can make all the difference in the world.

- [Rob] We've gamified something very serious, which, on the face of it, doesn't sound good, but it was the only way for us to achieve our objective of crowd-sourcing, hundreds of people, and bringing them in for that focused effort to locate that child or elderly person or whoever it might be.

Anywhere I can push that envelope and allow us to do better, I feel pretty good about that.


Hopefully this inspires people to do that., - [Nathalie] Just, to know that Trace Labs, stranger, they would do research for my father, I was touched.

I, don't think I'm gonna stop looking for him.

I will never stop.

(light music) Thanks for watching! If, you like this.


Don't forget to subscribe to.

Freethink for more great videos.

Every week.


What is the name of the group that searches for missing people? ›

NamUs provides technology, forensic services, and investigative support to resolve missing person and unidentified remains cases.

How can facial recognition find missing people? ›

Coupled with an automated biometric software application, this system is capable of identifying or verifying a person by comparing and analysing patterns, shapes and proportions of their facial features and contours.

How can I find a missing person fast? ›

Looking for the missing person
  1. search the home or wherever they were last seen.
  2. check the loft, garden, shed or garage.
  3. remember that children can fit into small spaces.
  4. see if they have left a note.
  5. look for clues as to what they might be intending to do, for example have they taken their passport or packed a bag.

Is Trace Labs legit? ›

Trace Labs is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the family reunification of missing persons while training members in the tradecraft of open source intelligence (OSINT).

How many people a day go missing in the US? ›

According to Child Find of America, up to 2,300 children are reported missing every day in the US. In the vast majority of these cases, the kidnapper is a parent but not the child's legal guardian and abducts the child from their legal guardian, such as an estranged spouse or foster home.

What was the biggest search party in history? ›

Dennis Lloyd Martin (born June 20, 1962) was an American child who disappeared on June 14, 1969, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee at the age of six. The search effort was the most extensive in the park's history, involving approximately 1,400 searchers and a 56-square-mile (150 km2) area.

What are the chances of finding a missing person alive after 72 hours? ›

One major change is how quickly authorities now respond to reports of missing children, understanding that time is of the essence. Regardless of who has abducted the child, every minute counts as 94 percent of recovered children are found within 72 hours, including 47 percent found within three hours.

How many hours does a person have to be missing? ›

There is no time limit that you must wait to report a person as missing, whether he/she is considered missing or a runaway. You do not have to wait 48 hours to file a report.

Can police track your phone if you are missing? ›

To obtain real-time data, a service provider can either contemporaneously monitor a phone's CSLI connections or "ping" a user's cellphone and force it to reveal its location. This real-time data can provides police with information on a suspect's (phone's) current whereabouts.

What Osint means? ›

Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is defined as intelligence produced by collecting, evaluating and analyzing publicly available information with the purpose of answering a specific intelligence question.

How does Osint work? ›

OSINT involves using publicly available information from social media, websites, and news articles to gather information about an individual or organization. This information can then be used to identify vulnerabilities and plan attacks.

Where is Trace Labs located? ›

Frequently Asked Questions regarding Trace Labs

Trace Labs's headquarters are located at 46-48 Wyndham St, Central Ljubljana, Slovenia What is Trace Labs's official website?

What is the website for missing people? ›

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is a national information clearinghouse and resource center for missing, unidentified, and unclaimed person cases across the United States.

Is there a DNA database for missing persons? ›

Using the National DNA Index System of CODIS, the National Missing Persons DNA Database also helps identify missing and unidentified individuals. CODIS generates investigative leads in cases where biological evidence is recovered from the crime scene.

Does the FBI do missing persons? ›

Burke said the FBI is ready and willing to help in any missing persons case, and they have advantages that some police departments may not have. “Depending on the size of the department, of their geographic location, we may have things that they do not have access too, that we can add to the investigation,” Burke said.

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