11-year-old hacker Reuben Paul toys around with ease

Reuben Paul, the opening speaker at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday, giving a demonstration on how easily devices linked to the Internet of Things can be hacked. The 11-year-old from Texas is sought after across the world for his hac
Reuben Paul, the opening speaker at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday, giving a demonstration on how easily devices linked to the Internet of Things can be hacked. The 11-year-old from Texas is sought after across the world for his hacking skills.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

As he types a string of numbers on his laptop, 11-year-old Reuben Paul's remote-controlled car springs to life, "shooting" virtual lasers. Its target: The drone flying on stage in front of it, operated by Reuben's father Mano Paul, 40.

A few more laser blasts later, the drone crashes to the ground, to applause from more than 300 participants at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday.

These latest gadgets are some of the tech-empowered toys that children these days play with, operating them with their smartphones.

But Reuben, a sixth grader from Austin, Texas, was using his laptop instead. He sniffed out the Bluetooth connection between the remote-controlled car and his phone, and hijacked it by typing a string of code into his computer.

Dubbed a cyber whizz-kid, Reuben is sought after across the world for his hacking skills. He was the opening speaker at the forum, where he demonstrated how easily devices connected to the "Internet of Things" can be hacked.

"What I have shown you might seem (as) insignificant as hacking a few toys... but this is the same technology going into real-world applications such as industrial control systems, autonomous vehicles, even drones and droids," he said.

The Internet of Things refers to a network of devices that can be linked and operated remotely.

Reuben pointed out that even such toys pose privacy and security threats, and can be weaponised by determined hackers. He added that the "smartification" of such everyday devices comes at a "cost of not having the controls to protect us". "It is this technology that your kids are going to be growing up with."

Reuben is one of the founders of CyberShaolin, a non-profit organisation he started with his father to educate children "so they won't fall prey to cyber dangers". CyberShaolin was started when Reuben was nine, and already speaking at international conferences on hacking and cyber security.

He uploads educational videos on cyber-security concepts, and followers can earn badges as they demonstrate an understanding of these concepts.

Reuben will also be speaking at the National Library at 7pm tonight, where his five-year-old brother Ittai will be making his debut on stage.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline '11-year-old hacker toys around with ease'. Print Edition | Subscribe