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San Antonio professor explains why Joe Biden can't bring Peloton to White House

San Antonio Express News logo San Antonio Express News 1/16/2021 Mark Dunphy

On the COVID-19 era campaign trail, Joe Biden rose early at his Delaware home for a workout in a gym that boasted a Peloton bike, weights and a treadmill.

The President-elect might have to make do without his sleek bike at the White House, according to Max Kilger, director of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Data Analytics Program. The bike could pose a two-wheeled security risk on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Peloton's stationary bikes, which range from $1,895 to $2,495, offer at-home spin classes through a high-definition touch screen. Kilger would not bring one into the White House unless the manufacturer made some extensive modifications.

"Not without the factory modifying it — yanking out the camera, yanking out the microphone, and yanking out the networking," Kilger said. "But at that point, you pretty much have a $400 bike instead of a $2,000 Peloton."

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The bikes, like all "Internet of Things" devices, come with a tradeoff, Kilger noted. The Peloton would let Biden watch beautiful scenery and pedal with classmates, but it could also allow a hacker access to one of the nation's most secure buildings.

If someone was able to compromise the Peloton's computer — which has a custom operating system built on top of an Android base — they could compromise other networks inside the White House through a WiFi network or hardwired connection. The bike could serve as a gateway for malware.

Measures like firewalls, anti-viral security software, intrusion detection systems offer good protection, Kilger said, but they are not guaranteed.

The UTSA professor noted that connected devices like Pelotons or smart light bulbs offer the same cost-benefit analysis for non-presidents. Hackers could move malware from such devices to a laptop or desktop computer in a home, adding keyloggers or screen snappers to capture financial credentials.

Of course, the stakes are raised a tad higher when its a world leader weighing the security risks. Asked about the future of Biden's bike, a Peloton spokesperson said the company cannot discuss specific customers.

Two forces at work with "Internet of Things" devices contribute to the security vulnerabilities, according to Kilger.

Every company wants to be first to market with a new product — especially in the competitive consumer electronics space— and building and testing security costs money and takes time. Time that could allow a competitor to introduce their version.

Also, engineers love to make devices "talk" to each other. Every time you connect one device to another, you create an opportunity for someone to exploit.

With Peloton bikes, hackers seem to have stuck to breaking in to watch Netflix and YouTube on the screens so far.

"For the most part it's a non-hostile, friendly hacking community that gets a lot of delight out of making it do things that perhaps its original manufacturer hadn't intended it to do," Kilger said of the bikes.

"But anytime you have folks that are hacking things for fun and benefit, you also have folks that perhaps don't have the same good intentions."

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