CyberShaolin: Teaching the Next Generation of Cybersecurity Experts
Swapnil Bhartiya | 09 October 2017
Reuben Paul is not the only kid who plays video games, but his fascination with games and computers set him on a unique journey of curiosity that led to an early interest in cybersecurity education and advocacy and the creation of CyberShaolin, an organization that helps children understand the threat of cyberattacks. Paul, who is now 11 years old, will present a keynote talk at Open Source Summit in Prague, sharing his experiences and highlighting insecurities in toys, devices, and other technologies in daily use.
We interviewed Paul to hear the story of his journey and to discuss CyberShaolin and its mission to educate, equip, and empower kids (and their parents) with knowledge of cybersecurity dangers and defenses.
Linux.com: When did your fascination with computers start?
Reuben Paul: My fascination with computers started with video games. I like mobile phone games as well as console video games. When I was about 5 years old (I think), I was playing the “Asphalt” racing game by Gameloft on my phone. It was a simple but fun game. I had to touch on the right side of the phone to go fast and touch the left side of the phone to slow down. I asked my dad, “How does the game know where I touch?”
He researched and found out that the phone screen was an xy coordinate system and so he told me that if the x value was greater than half the width of the phone screen, then it was a touch on the right side. Otherwise, it was a touch on the left side. To help me better understand how this worked, he gave me the equation to graph a straight line, which was y = mx + b and asked, “Can you find the y value for each x value?” After about 30 minutes, I calculated the y value for each of the x values he gave me.
“When my dad realized that I was able to learn some fundamental logics of programming, he introduced me to Scratch and I wrote my first game — called “Big Fish eats Small Fish” — using the x and y values of the mouse pointer in the game. Then I just kept falling in love with computers.Paul, who is now 11 years old, will present a keynote talk at Open Source Summit in Prague, sharing his experiences and highlighting insecurities in toys, devices, and other technologies in daily use.
Linux.com: What got you interested in cybersecurity?
Paul: My dad, Mano Paul, used to train his business clients on cybersecurity. Whenever he worked from his home office, I would listen to his phone conversations. By the time I was 6 years old, I knew about things like the Internet, firewalls, and the cloud. When my dad realized I had the interest and the potential for learning, he started teaching me security topics like social engineering techniques, cloning websites, man-in-the-middle attack techniques, hacking mobile apps, and more. The first time I got a meterpreter shell from a test target machine, I felt like Peter Parker who had just discovered his Spiderman abilities.
Linux.com: How and why did you start CyberShaolin?
Paul: When I was 8 years old, I gave my first talk on “InfoSec from the mouth of babes (or an 8 year old)” in DerbyCon. It was in September of 2014. After that conference, I received several invitations and before the end of 2014, I had keynoted at three other conferences.
So, when kids started hearing me speak at these different conferences, they started writing to me and asking me to teach them. I told my parents that I wanted to teach other kids, and they asked me how. I said, “Maybe I can make some videos and publish them on channels like YouTube.” They asked me if I wanted to charge for my videos, and I said “No.” I want my videos to be free and accessible to any child anywhere in the world. This is how CyberShaolin was created.
Linux.com: What’s the goal of CyberShaolin?
Paul: CyberShaolin is the non-profit organization that my parents helped me found. Its mission is to educate, equip, and empower kids (and their parents) with knowledge of cybersecurity dangers and defenses, using videos and other training material that I develop in my spare time from school, along with kung fu, gymnastics, swimming, inline hockey, piano, and drums. I have published about a dozen videos so far on the www.CyberShaolin.org website and plan to develop more. I would also like to make games and comics to support security learning.
CyberShaolin comes from two words: Cyber and Shaolin. The word cyber is of course from technology. Shaolin comes from the kung fu martial art form in which my dad and are I are both second degree black belt holders. In kung fu, we have belts to show our progress of knowledge, and you can think of CyberShaolin like digital kung fu where kids can become Cyber Black Belts, after learning and taking tests on our website.
Linux.com: How important do you think is it for children to understand cybersecurity?
Paul: We are living in a time when technology and devices are not only in our homes but also in our schools and pretty much any place you go. The world is also getting very connected with the Internet of Things, which can easily become the Internet of Threats. Children are one of the main users of these technologies and devices. Unfortunately, these devices and apps on these devices are not very secure and can cause serious problems to children and families. For example, I recently (in May 2017) demonstrated how I could hack into a smart toy teddy bear and turn it into a remote spying device.
Children are also the next generation. If they are not aware and trained in cybersecurity, then the future (our future) will not be very good.
Linux.com: How does the project help children?
Paul:As I mentioned before, CyberShaolin’s mission is to educate, equip, and empower kids (and their parents) with knowledge of cybersecurity dangers and defenses.
As kids are educated about cybersecurity dangers like cyber bullying, man-in-the-middle, phishing, privacy, online threats, mobile threats, etc., they will be equipped with knowledge and skills, which will empower them to make cyber-wise decisions and stay safe and secure in cyberspace.
And, just as I would never use my kung fu skills to harm someone, I expect all CyberShaolin graduates to use their cyber kung fu skills to create a secure future, for the good of humanity.
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