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Hackers To Help Police Find Missing Persons In World-First

Police are enlisting more than 300 hackers to hunt down new leads in a dozen missing person cases.

The disappearance of Belgian teenager Théo Hayez left an entire coastal town desperately searching for answers.

While holidaying in Byron Bay on NSW's far north coast, the 18-year-old failed to return to his hostel one night in May.

A large-scale search quickly got underway, including police, SES, homicide squad detectives, surf lifesavers, and hundreds of local community members.

PHOTO: Facebook.

Even after police called off ground, air and water searches in July, a dedicated group of locals persevered, determined to send the young tourist home to his family.

Now, the search for Hayez and others like him will take on a completely new form.

On Friday, 354 computer-savvy participants will gather across 10 Australian locations to search for new leads in 12 missing person cases -- Hayez among the list.

The National Missing Persons Hackathon is a world-first operation and will put hackers to the ultimate test -- gathering open-source intelligence on long-term missing persons using only information that is publicly available on the internet.

“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.

Image: Getty

The main event will be hosted in Canberra, and live-streamed to all participants working in Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth.

The participants are 'ethical hackers' -- someone who hacks into a computer in order to test its security, as opposed to gaining access to a system for criminal or malicious purposes.

At a time when data breaches are costing companies more than ever, these experts are hired to break into corporate networks to expose, and subsequently, patch up security flaws.

READ MORERemembering Missing Aussies With A Cup Of Coffee

The event is a partnership between the  AustCyber Canberra Cyber Security Innovation Node, the Australian Federal Police, the National Missing Persons Coordination Centre and Trace Labs.

All leads generated will be handed over to the AFP and NMPCC after the event.

There are approximately 2600 long term missing person cases in Australia.

As well as Hayez, the hackers will be searching for information on Tanya Buckland, Peter English, David John Mansell, Jean Policarpio, Antonia Popic, Gary Felton, Peter Koever, Rebecca Hayward Zac Barnes, Tej Chitnis, and Nazrawi Woldemichael.

The 12 cases selected for the hackathon are no more than 12 years old, as digital footprints, including social media, of people missing before this were not as prominent as they are today.

Tej Chitnis. Image: AAP

The case of Tej Chitnis, who went missing from his Melbourne home in 2016, featured on one of the eight specially designed coffee cups created by the Missing Person's Advocacy Network in August.

Some 100,000 biodegradable cups were distributed to cafes across the country in a bid to get the faces of eight long-term missing people in front of Australians.