A team of ethical hackers from UNC Charlotte’s College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) was recently recognized for coming up with the “Best Social Good Hack” at HackNC, an event held in collaboration with competitions at eight locations around the globe and featuring as many as 10,000 student hackers.
CCI’s team tackled the expanding human trafficking epidemic living too quietly in the shadows of our increasingly digital world.
As an urban area with the intersection of two major interstate highways within its limits, Charlotte is particularly vulnerable to illegal trafficking of all kinds, but the rise of human trafficking is particularly distressing.
Almost 100 cases of human trafficking are reported in Charlotte each year. That is a number on the rise and ranks Charlotte’s eighth nationally. According to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 895 victim and survivor calls from North Carolina in 2017, double the number from 2012.
Male victims tend to be between 11-13 years old, while female victims are 12-14 years old. Most are identified by online predators trolling social media sites like Craigslist and Bedwatch, but even Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram have been cited in cases.
The CCI squad, featuring students Linh Pham, Herambh Yadavalli, Hansel Wei and Timothy Chacko, employed machine learning and natural language processing to recognize keywords and emojis commonly used by predators to target, lure and share information about victims.
While camouflaged terms, text and even emojis are regularly changed by predators, the CCI team hopes to establish a database where commonly used language and emojis will establish a forensic blueprint of how predators operate to help law enforcement better predict, prevent and prosecute cases.
The award for “Best Social Good Hack” was sponsored by Fidelity Labs and the team was rewarded with Visa gift cards.
For more on the project, CLICK.
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