Hackers tend to get a bad rap online because some people who have good hacking skills end up using them in bad ways – by stealing people’s personal information like credit cards or even someone’s identity.
However, there are some groups of hackers who use their skills for good, such as the infamous hacktivist group “Anonymous”, which are known for their cyber attacks against malicious governments or entities.
However, a lesser-known example of hackers with good deeds is an organization called Trace Labs.
Trace Labs helps find missing people with hacking skills.
“Trace Labs is a non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the reunification of families of missing persons while at the same time training members in the craft of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)”, it says on their page “Who we are”.
Robert Sell is the founder of Trace Labs and has a background in search and rescue and is a computer security professional.
“I see all the people who are missing, and when I was paying attention I noticed that there are a lot of people who are missing that we never look for,” he said during a short documentary on Freethink. “I’ve always asked myself, ‘Who is looking for these people if I am not?’ Sometimes it’s nobody. “
Trace Labs was a mix of his passions. Sell uses his skills to find small details about a person’s online activities and derive information from them about their possible location.
When you go to a typical security conference, “Sell explains,” there are so many different things you can do – you can learn how to hack a car, how to hack a voting device – whatever you want to do, it is still there this effort is wasted and gone because it is not used for anything else. “
Sell believes that aside from cybersecurity, hacking should be used for something good and something that can help people.
“What we’re doing is putting all of this effort into something that actually benefits society,” he added. “We turn to all those people who are missing and whom no one is currently looking for.”
Trace Labs attracts volunteers by organizing search events.
He organizes events like “Capture the Flag” where everyone can gain a foothold – and awards points that they can spend on prizes to bring them to the OSINT Search Parties that help find missing people.
But there is much more to it than that. With a community of over 10,000 members, the real goal is to give people the tools they need to help themselves without necessarily attending the Trace Lab events.
Trace Labs has hosted 35 search party events and assisted with law enforcement on over 320 cases, and also seeks to raise awareness of the missing persons problem.
“The participants come and say: ‘Wait a minute, are they really missing?’” Explains Sell. “And you can see how their minds change when they say, ‘Wow, we’re actually changing people’s lives.”
He admits that what they have done is a very serious problem, but stresses that this was probably the only way to “push the envelope” and get people to find these missing people.
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With the nationally recognized case of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie months behind us, more and more people are pushing for initiatives that can help find these missing people or preventive measures that prevent people from missing in the first place.
“Anywhere I can cross that line and allow ourselves to get better, I feel pretty good,” adds Sell. “Hopefully that will inspire people.”
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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics. Follow him on Twitter here.