Cal Poly 'digital forensics' competion aims to get more students to study cybersecurity

Jun 27, 2018

More than 100  high school students from around the state took part in a two-day digital forensics challenge at San Luis Obispo's California Polytechnic State University this week. The California Cyber Innovation Challenge was designed to replicate threats that cybersecurity professionals face.

Darien Jewel is a junior at Coast Union High School in Cambria. "We were alerted there was ransomware that was infecting the servers," Jewel said. "So we had to collect all the different passwords that would deactivate the ransomware before it goes off and deletes all the medical records."

Cal Poly’s California Cybersecurity Institute was transformed into a military hospital June 23-25 so students could work in a real-world scenario using state-of-the-art forensics tools. The Cyber Innovation Challenge is part of a statewide campaign to help high school students see cybersecurity as a future course of study and career. 

Eileen Sánchez is the chief of defense industry, cybersecurity resilience and innovation for the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development or GO-Biz. They spearheaded the competition.

“There are 28 million small businesses in the U.S., and it’s estimated that 90 percent of them will fall victim to a cyber attack,” Sánchez said. “These are the businesses that keep our economy going. They’re critical, and so are the skills needed to fill about 35,000 open jobs in cybersecurity across California.”

Twenty teams of high school students across the state competed for the state champion title. The North Hollywood High School team won the competition. Jesuit High School in the Sacramento area took second place. Del Norte High School in San Diego came in third. Coast Union High School in Cambria, named Best New Team in the 2017 challenge, took 14th place this year.