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2 L.A. schools compete in anti-cyber-hacking competition

March 23, 2012 | 10:46 am

Two local high schools flew to Washington to compete in a national cyber defense competition aimed at testing students' knowledge of securing computer systems from potential hackers.

Students from Benjamin Franklin High School in Highland Park joined 11 other schools from across the nation to compete in CyberPatriot-The National High School Cyber Defense Competition.

Members Jasmine Cao, Alvir DelaCruz, Patricia Hernandez, Jenny Huang, William Wong and Jasmine Talavera beat out students at more than 1,000 schools to advance to the open division finals.

Junior ROTC students from Reseda High School in Reseda will compete later in the afternoon in the all-service division that is open only to students participating in the leadership training program.

The competition, which is organized by the Washington-based nonprofit Air Force Assn., pits students against four unseen hackers who are attacking their computers. The students must identify abnormalities, bugs and unauthorized users from roaming their computer systems looking to steal sensitive information.

"These kids today are not just looking for viruses," said Mike Diaz, 28, of San Diego, who is on the panel that is attacking the students. "They are looking for misconfigurations and extra points of entry where somebody can come and invade their computer."

Since 2009, President Obama has warned against the threat of cyber terrorism. He said the U.S. is vulnerable to cyber attacks from enemies looking to steal intelligence or disrupt the country's power grid.

Early this month, NASA revealed that hackers attacked its computers, stealing user information from dozen of employees and gained control over key networks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge.

The competition is aimed at training tomorrow's cyber protectors of national security, said Bernard Skoch, commissioner of the CyberPatriot program.

Winners will be announced Friday evening at an awards dinner. Corporate sponsor Northrop Grumman donated $56,000 in scholarship money that will be awarded to the top three teams.

The grand prize includes a computer and dinner with President Obama. Another fringe benefit: Internship opportunities that can lead to six-figure jobs upon college graduation.

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-- Angel Jennings

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