Young cyberhacker wows large crowd at AskST@NLB talk

Reuben Paul, 11 (left) is joined by his five-year-old brother Ittai Aidan Paul, who is making his debut as a cyber security speaker.
Reuben Paul, 11 (left) is joined by his five-year-old brother Ittai Aidan Paul, who is making his debut as a cyber security speaker.ST PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR

SINGAPORE - Hacking into his robotic teddy bear is his usual party trick, but it was what 11-year-old Reuben Paul said while doing so that earned the most nervous laughter of the night.

"Wow, look at all these active Bluetooth devices right now," he said, wryly, referring to the smartwatches and wearable gadgets proliferating among his audience. "Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to do anything to them in this event."

It was no idle boast - the American preteen also managed to figure out the passwords of several volunteers at the National Library on Wednesday (Dec 6) evening. "Don't use your real password," he warned them before beginning each demonstration of common hacking techniques like phishing.

Nearly 400 people packed into an events area in the Central Public Library to listen to Reuben, who has been hailed as a boy genius for his hacking abilities.

The event is part of a series of askST@NLB talks, which began in July. Each night-time talk is usually given by a Straits Times correspondent or editor, and is followed by a question-and-answer segment.

Reuben, who started non-profit organisation CyberShaolin with his father, spoke about its mission to educate and empower children and adults against cyber threats, such as online bullying, Internet addiction and IT security. The sixth grader from Austin, Texas, is a sought-after speaker in the cyber security world and has given talks in seven countries so far.

Last night, he had extra help from his younger brother, Ittai, 5, who is also starting to grow a keen interest in cyber issues. Making his debut public speaking experience, the tot helped with one of the demonstrations and talked about buffer overflow, a type of programming anomaly.

Many stayed behind to speak to Reuben and Ittai, as well as to gain some parenting tips from parents, Mano and Sangeeta Paul, after the event. Both work in the IT field.

Said Mr Paul, 40, a cyber security strategist: "I am thankful for this opportunity for Reuben and also for Ittai, who is probably the youngest person ever to speak on cyber security matters."

Said Madam Ingrid Lim, 42, who attended the talk with her two sons: "Reuben has quite an impressive list of achievements, because he had good, early exposure to these important topics from his parents. Age is not an obstacle."

The next talk on Dec 15 will feature The Straits Times senior education correspondent Sandra Davie, who will be discussing the question "Do you need a degree to succeed in life?"

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.