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Hunted – the game is on – NCC Group hunters back for another year

Our long-running partnership with the TV show Hunted continues for another year with the launch of the UK Celebrity series last weekend.

First aired in 2014, ‘Hunted’ is a real-life thriller where contestants are instructed to go on the run, whilst avoiding an elite team of hunters with military, police, or cyber backgrounds that can access the 'powers of the state' to track down them down.

Over the years, the ‘Hunted’ fugitives have used all manner of ways to avoid detection, from isolating on remote Welsh islands, to hitchhiking with strangers and donning elaborate disguises, sometimes for weeks on end.

To mark the start of the new Celebrity series, we interviewed Paul Vlissidis, Technical Director and Senior Adviser at NCC Group, who has been part of our team of hunters from the start, to find out about his experiences on the show.

How did NCC Group get involved in the show?

“When we were contacted by a producer for what would become Hunted, they brought a laptop to our offices and asked if we could break into the laptop and extract data – which, of course, we did. We were doing things like geotagging photographs and working out where people had been, and they realised that they could use this to quite make a good TV show. When the first show came out in 2014, we thought we’d just be advising the show from the background. However, very quickly they asked if we could be part of the team of hunters and actually be on camera in the HQ. So we said yeah, why not?”

How do you track people as a hunter?

“In HQ, we have a cyber team and an open-source intelligence team, some intelligence analysts, and an operational team who work on the ground. We gather a rich picture of the individuals during the show, using social media and by analysing their digital footprints. We also interview their friends and family and have access to information that replicates law enforcement tools, such as CCTV camera footage and number plate recognition technology.

“We essentially use all that data set to try and work out where the targets are and get ahead of them. If we think we're getting close to the individuals, we can put drones up with high-def and infrared cameras to track them down, and then send the teams in to capture them. On days where we do make a capture, the energy in the room is phenomenal.”

What have you learnt being involved in the show for so long?

“In the show our activity is real, it’s not staged, so it has allowed us to almost road test our technology and learn which techniques work best. In terms of forensics, we have also been able to test different approaches, and see which tooling works best in which situation. Ultimately, a lot of the work we do on the show reflects what we use in real engagements, so it has been a very helpful and educational experience for the team.”

Has the show been helpful in spreading cyber security awareness to the public?

“I've always been interested in trying to get people to take cyber seriously. I thought the show could be a good opportunity to educate ordinary people about the risks and issues surrounding cyber and then try to help them arm themselves against them.

“We don't really see the contestants coming to us with much smaller digital footprints or cleaner histories after the show. We still see people reusing passwords and doing all the things that our advice says not to do, such as using eight-character passwords and not reusing them between different websites.

“That said, [the techniques our team use on Hunted] do get harder each year, as having a username and the password often isn't enough anymore. you must come from a trusted location or device, whilst AI [trained to detect suspicious behaviour] is also getting better. We are becoming more secure. That said, the people seeking to access this information are continually finding new ways and angles and so we have to be alert to that.”

What’s it been like to be involved with the show?

“It's an amazing experience to be a part of, because the degree of creative thought that goes on about chaining together pieces of information to see if they actually make logical sense to see if we can work out where someone has gone is great fun. It really is a very, very enjoyable experience, particularly the charity version of the show. It’s great to be involved in something like that, which is doing some social good.”

About Celebrity Hunted

Returning in 2022 for a celebrity special in aid of ‘Stand Up To Cancer', this six part series follows a group of celebrities who attempt to survive 14 days on the run. The cast includes teams of popular British figures, such as Olympic runner Iwan Thomas and Paralympian Richard Whitehead, former Holby City actress Chizzy Akudolu and rapper Lisa Maffia, RuPaul's Drag Race UK winner The Vivienne and reality star Chloe Veitch, as well as Made in Chelsea stars Ollie and Gareth Locke-Locke.

The fourth season of Celebrity Hunted is now airing on Channel 4 every Sunday at 9pm, with the final episode on 27th February. Viewers can also watch the series on All4 after its Channel 4 air date.

For more info about Channel 4’s Celebrity Hunted, read here.

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