This 11-year-old wants you to know how vulnerable your electronic devices are.

When 11-year-old Reuben Paul took the stage at the International One Conference, the audience didn't know what was in store for them.  

In front of the fascinated audience, Reuben proceeded to hack his teddy bear.

Image via AFP/YouTube.


The teddy bear Reuben hacked, which he named BOB (standing for Bear-of-Breaches), is no ordinary teddy bear: It can receive and send messages via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. By plugging a small computer called a Raspberry Pi into his laptop, Reuben was able to remotely control the bear — turning on its light and even its microphone.

"By turning on the microphone and leaving the light off, the teddy bear essentially became a spying device as I could record the conversation in the room," Reuben writes in an email.

"Theoretically I could stand outside someone's house and if the toy is in range, connect to any internet-connected devices ... and spy on them by recording everything that they are saying."

Sounds kind of terrifying, right?

Reuben doesn't regularly hack teddy bears, but he does try to spread the word about how easy it is to weaponize seemingly innocuous items.

Image via Mano Paul, used with permission.

Reuben's dad told The Guardian that Reuben's cyber skills started to show at age 6 when his dad explained how a smartphone game worked — and then Reuben realized that it used the same kind of logic as Angry Birds. He later learned how to hack a toy car.

When he was invited to speak at the conference in The Hague, Netherlands, the fifth-grader says he wanted to do something cool and unique. So with the help of his dad, Mano Paul (a cybersecurity expert), Reuben "researched the security of the teddy bear and found the insecurity."

Image via Mano Paul, used with permission.

His demonstration got quite the reception.  

"I went to Hague to share my research and experiences and did not expect any press," writes Reuben. "But when the local RTL news and Agence France-Presse reported the news and people all over the world came to hear of the dangers of insecure [internet-connected] devices, it felt good to have raised awareness."  

Reuben's goal is to get across an important message: To keep our kids safe, we need to be aware of the vulnerabilities of internet-connected devices.

Says Reuben: "In my generation, internet connected devices are making it into kids game room and my 5 year old little brother Ittai and I have a few of them. I wanted to make sure that they are safe for kids (like my brother) to use."

He notes that any internet-connected device can be weaponized if it’s "hackable" — i.e., if it doesn't have the right security defenses or they're not working properly.

He offers some tips for how to protect yourself online:

1. Read up and be more aware of security threats.  

2. Don't connect to access points that are public or that you don't know.

3. Check the privacy and location services settings on your devices (tablets, phones, etc.) and turn them off if you don't need them.

4. Don't talk. Don't take. Don't trust.

As in, don't give out personal information on social media; don't accept anything from someone you don't know ("because there is no free lunch in the real or the cyber world"); and don't trust anyone on the internet, as they are "cyber strangers."

5. Use strong passwords (and don't have a common password).

6. Connect to websites over secure channels.

7. Patch your systems with the latest security updates.

As for his plans, Reuben has a full slate this summer.

He has received inquiries from kids and their parents wanting to know more about cybersecurity, so with the help of his parents, he started CyberShaolin, a nonprofit that aims to "educate, equip, and empower kids and adults with the dangers and defenses of cybersecurity." They make videos that are understandable for kids and adults alike, and he plans to work on more during the summer.

He has also already received a number of invitations to keynote conferences around the world (including in Singapore, Poland, and Prague). And he wants to learn programming.

But don't worry — he's also got some "me time" planned. "Over summer," he writes, "I plan to play a lot of video games with my brother, read books and just relax."

Brothers Reuben and Ittai. Image via Mano Paul, used with permission.

As for his long-term goals? Reuben says he wants to use his cybersecurity knowledge and skills "for the good of humanity." His ideal job is as a businessman by day, making video games and apps, and a "cyber spy" by night, helping protect the country from cyber threats. He'd also like to become an Olympic gymnast.

He adds, practically, "I don't know if these will become realities, but for now, I am just going to take it one step at a time."

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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