North Hollywood High School Wins Title at California Cyber Innovation Challenge at Cal Poly

Twenty high school teams competed in simulated cybersecurity challenges during annual statewide competition

SAN LUIS OBISPO — After successfully blocking a mock ransomware attack on a medical facility, North Hollywood High School’s “Truman” team took first place in the annual California Cyber Innovation Challenge, hosted June 23-25 at Cal Poly.

More than 100 high school students from around the state took part in the two-day competition, designed to replicate the many different threats that cybersecurity professionals face. This year’s challenge transformed Cal Poly’s California Cybersecurity Institute (CCI) into a military hospital so students could immerse themselves in a real-world scenario using state-of-the-art forensics tools.

"I found this year’s California Cyber Innovation Challenge both creative and challenging,” said Jillian Kusch, a member of the North Hollywood High team. “It tested the limits of what I thought I knew about digital forensics and required me to work diligently within my team to thwart a life-threatening malware attack.”

The Cyber Innovation Challenge is part of a statewide campaign to introduce more students to cybersecurity as a future course of study and career, and empower businesses to support cybersecurity education and training. Cal Poly and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) led the event in conjunction with government, academic and business leaders.

Jesuit High School in the Sacramento area took second place, while Del Norte High School in San Diego came in third. Bakersfield’s Centennial High School, which placed fourth, was named Best New Team. Coast Union High School in Cambria, named Best New Team in the 2017 challenge, took 14th place this year.

“I was so impressed by your determination, dedication and talent,” CCI Business Services Coordinator Danielle Borrelli, who worked on this year’s challenge, told the high school students during Monday’s awards ceremony at Cal Poly. “Don’t stop here — keep growing.”

Eileen Sánchez, GO-Biz’s chief of defense industry cybersecurity resilience and innovation, urged the students to share with others the importance of cybersecurity and the vast demand for professionals with security skills.

“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,” she 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.”

After regional qualifying competitions throughout the spring, 20 teams from the Central Valley, East Bay, San Jose, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento and San Diego areas competed for the state champion title. (See the full list of teams here.) 

On Sunday, the students participated in the Digital Forensics Challenge at the CCI at Camp San Luis Obispo, where, in just a few hours, they had to stop ransomware from erasing critical medical data and potentially jeopardizing patients’ lives. The competition highlighted the growing importance of protecting the healthcare system against evolving cyberthreats.

On Monday, the students followed clues on Cal Poly’s campus to solve cybersecurity puzzles and challenges designed by cybersecurity analysts and Cal Poly professors. Many of the competitors and their coaches marveled at the realism and uniqueness of the challenges. 

“California has the best cybersecurity students in the nation, and GO-Biz and Cal Poly created a fantastic challenge that tested them to their limits,” said Jay Gehringer, who coached the winning North Hollywood High School team.

GO-Biz and Cal Poly led this event along with a collection of businesses, state agencies, and educational partners dedicated to reinforcing California’s leadership position in cybersecurity. The California Workforce Development Board provided the seed funding for this challenge. Other coalition leaders include the California Military Department, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the Department of Technology and the California Department of Justice.

 Jillian Kusch, Sean Cho, Aaron Opell, Glen Husman, Bryan Goldenberg, Nathan White and coach Jay Gehringer.
The first-place Truman team from North Hollywood High School. From left to right: Jillian Kusch, Sean Cho, Aaron Opell, Glen Husman, Bryan Goldenberg, Nathan White and coach Jay Gehringer.

 Justin Covairt, Donovan Jasper, Casey Honaker, Peter Sutarjo, Jovin Thomas, Joshua Chou and coach Justin Tsai.
The second-place team from Jesuit High School, near Sacramento. From left to right: Justin Covairt, Donovan Jasper, Casey Honaker, Peter Sutarjo, Jovin Thomas, Joshua Chou and coach Justin Tsai.

 Pranuv Patil, Eric Chen, Andrew Wang, Akul Arora, Daniel Chen, Alex Guo and coach Paul Johnson.
The third-place team from Del Norte High School in San Diego. From left to right: Pranuv Patil, Eric Chen, Andrew Wang, Akul Arora, Daniel Chen, Alex Guo and coach Paul Johnson.

About the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz)
GO-Biz serves as California’s single point of contact for economic development and job creation efforts. GO-Biz offers a range of services to business owners including: attraction, retention and expansion services, site selection, permit streamlining, clearing of regulatory hurdles, small business assistance, international trade development, assistance with state government, and much more.

About the California Cybersecurity Institute
The California Cybersecurity Institute (CCI) is a robust, multi-agency effort to protect California through enhanced cybercrime forensics and statewide tactical response training. A partnership between Cal Poly and the California National Guard, the CCI aims to educate the next generation of the cyber workforce and provide faculty and students with a new, hands-on research and learning environment. It serves as an extended Learn by Doing space for Cal Poly students to explore new cyber technologies and train and test tactics side by side with law enforcement professionals and cyberforensics experts. Learn more at

About Cal Poly
Cal Poly is a nationally ranked, four-year, comprehensive public university located in San Luis Obispo, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on California's Central Coast. It’s a distinctive learning community offering academically focused students a hands-on educational experience that prepares them for today’s scientific and technical world. Cal Poly is consistently ranked a top university for academics, value and graduates' salaries. For more information, visit

Contact: Danielle Borrelli

June 26, 2018

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