ST Global Outlook Forum 2018: Even children's toys can be weaponised by hackers, says cyber whizz-kid Reuben Paul

Cyber whizz-kid Reuben Paul demonstrated how easily devices connected to the "Internet of Things" can be hacked, at the ST Global Outlook Forum 2018 held at the Ritz Carlton. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Typing in a string of numbers into his laptop, 11-year-old Reuben Paul's remote-controlled car springs to life, "shooting" virtual lasers.

Its target was the drone flying in the air in front of it, operated by Reuben's father Mr Mano Paul, 40.

A few more laser blasts later, the drone crashes to the ground, to applause from the more than 300-strong audience at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum on Tuesday (Dec 5).

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

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 "cyber whizz-kid", Reuben is sought after across the world for his hacking skills. He was one of the speakers at the forum held at the Ritz Carlton and was demonstrating how easily devices connected to the "Internet of Things" can be hacked.

"What I have showed you might seem 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," said Reuben during his presentation.

The "Internet of Things" is a network of connected devices, that among other functions can be operated remotely.

Reuben pointed out that even such toys pose privacy and security threats, and can be weaponized by determined hackers.

He added that the "smartification" of such everyday devices comes at a "cost of not have the controls to protect us".

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"It's this technology that your kids are going to be growing up with," said Reuben.

He is one of the founders of CyberShaolin, the non-profit organisation started by him and his father.

Its mission is to educate, equip and empower children and adults with knowledge of cyber dangers and defences.

Reuben told the audience the organisation wants to educate children "so they won't fall prey to cyber dangers".

CyberShaolin started when Reuben was nine, and already speaking at international conferences on hacking and cyber security.

He puts up educational videos on cyber-security concepts on CyberShaolin's website, and followers can earn badges as they demonstrate understanding of the concepts.

Titled 'Facing the challenges of a new world order', this year's ST Global Outlook Forum was attended by more than 320 participants.

OCBC Premier Banking is the presenting sponsor for the forum and Mercedes-Benz is the official car for the event.

Reuben will also be speaking at the National Library on Wednesday (Dec 6), where his five-year-old brother Ittai will be making his debut on stage.

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The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum 2018 saw Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat speak on the importance of fiscal sustainability and how Singaporeans can stay relevant as tech disruption affects the economy.

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