Sixth grader schools security experts on how toys can become spies

11-year-old Reuben Paul is a sought-after speaker at international cybersecurity conferences. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

An Austin sixth grader is schooling cybersecurity experts on how toys can be weaponized. Reuben Paul is touring the world demonstrating how smart toys can be transformed into household spies. The 11-year-old started his summer by giving a demonstration at a cybersecurity conference in the Netherlands. When he returned home he did another show-and-tell for CBS Austin News.

Peak inside Reuben Paul's bedroom and everything looks normal. But if you listen, it's easy to hear that the sixth grader speaks another language.

"We're going to give that value. It's 4C4544," said Reuben. "Then use Python to do a Hex decoder."

He's so fluent, Reuben has become an international expert in cybersecurity.

"I'm going to hack an internet-connected toy bear," said Reuben as he sat at a small desk in the corner of the bedroom he shares with his younger brother.

His fingers flew over the keys as he showed us how the cutest and cuddliest smart toys can become spying devices.

"Somebody could stand outside your house and then connect to the bear and then record you," said Reuben.

It only took a few minutes for the 11-year-old to hack into the teddy bear's Bluetooth device and record our conversation.

"So if I was telling you right now my deepest darkest secrets, would the bear be recording it?" asked CBS Austin reporter Bettie Cross.

"Yes. Yes, it would," said Reuben.

"And who could hear that?" asked Cross.

"The hacker or anyone who has access to this or is connected to the bear and can play back the message," said Reuben.

All smart toys are vulnerable to hackers.

"From terminators to teddy bears, anything or any toy can be hacked," said Reuben.

But there are ways to keep teddy from spilling secrets.

"Closing open ports. Turning off Bluetooth when you don't really use it," said Reuben. "And just turn off the bear when you're not using it."

Reuben isn't doing the demonstrations to show off his computer and coding skills.

"Nooooo," he laughed. "I don't like to brag or anything like that.

Reuben doesn't think he's special or even genius smart.

"I feel like I'm just like any other ordinary kid," said Reuben. "Any other kid can do everything that I'm doing. They can hack and they can defend and they can code. All of them just need the right tools."

But humility can't hide the fact he's CEO of CyberShaolin, a company that educates, equips and empowers kids to protect their privacy.

He also started Prudent Games, an educational gaming website that encourages kids to learn while they play.

If that's not enough, Reuben is also the youngest American to become a Shaolin-Do Kung Fu black belt. But now the cyber ninja has a new goal.

"One of my other dreams is to be an Olympic gymnast," said Reuben, who has competed at gymnastics competitions.

If the past 11 years are any indication, his future is golden.

"Yes. If I practice every day and I try hard. Yes," said Reuben.

Reuben hopes to attend college at MIT or Caltech and use his skills to stop foreign cybersecurity threats.

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