LA whiz kids compete in DC to fight hackers

Kitty Felde/KPCC

Members of the Thundercats team check their laptops in a hallway.

Kitty Felde/KPCC

The Thundercats cyber security team from Franklin High School in Highland Park.

Thundercats members pose before one of the laptops they now get to keep.


A cyber security team from Highland Park is in Washington, D.C. this week, fighting to make the Web safer from hackers. The students from Franklin High School are competing in the CyberPatriot finals.

This group calls themselves "Thundercats," after a superhero cartoon from before they were born. The Franklin High squad is the first majority female team to compete in the finals.

Patricia Hernandez, one of the dozen Franklin High students competing in the national CyberPatriot finals, says, "We can be powerful just like them. But instead of their superpowers, we have codes and commands and anti-virus."

The two Jasmines on the team, Jasmine Cao and Jasmine Talavera, peer into a laptop, furiously typing away. Talavera says the object of the five-hour competition is to fend off a team of hackers trying to break into their computer system.

"What they’ll try to do is try to log in using our passwords by guessing," according to Talavera. "So what we have to do, number one thing, is change our passwords."

This is the first trip outside California for much of the team. Northrop Grumman, the largest cyber-security contractor for the federal government, paid their way.

That company’s Diane Miller says that last summer, the company hired nearly a dozen CyberPatriots as summer interns; this summer, it’s looking for 30 more.

"There’s so much talent at the high school level," she says. Northrop Grumman wanted to find a way "to teach cyber security, and excite the kids about careers in science, technology, engineering and math."

The Thundercats practiced after school and on weekends to get this far. They’re already winners — everybody gets to keep the laptops they’ve worked with all year.

But there’s more at stake than stuff, says Jasmine Talavera. "If we really win this competition, we’ll show that one of the lowest schools in L.A. can really be the best."

She imagines the conversation she'll have back home. "'You? L.A.? Highland Park? Nah,'" says Talavera. "And if we win this competition, I can walk up to them and say 'Yes, we won that competition.' "

Nearly 800 schools from across the country entered the CyberPatriot competition.

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