Is Your Peloton Spinning Up Malware?

[Disclaimer: The McAfee ATR team disclosed this vulnerability to Peloton and promptly started working together to responsibly develop and issue a patch within the disclosure window. The patch was tested and confirmed effective on June 4, 2021.]

Picture this: A hacker enters a gym or fitness center with a Peloton Bike+. They insert a tiny USB key with a boot image file containing malicious code that grants them remote root access. Since the attacker doesn’t need to factory unlock the bike to load the modified image, there is no sign that it was tampered with. With their newfound access, the hacker interferes with the Peloton’s operating system and now has the ability to install and run any programs, modify files, or set up remote backdoor access over the internet. They add malicious apps disguised as Netflix and Spotify to the bike in the hopes that unsuspecting users will enter their login credentials for them to harvest for other cyberattacks. They can enable the bike’s camera and microphone to spy on the device and whoever is using it. To make matters worse, they can also decrypt the bike’s encrypted communications with the various cloud services and databases it accesses, potentially intercepting all kinds of sensitive information. As a result, an unsuspecting gym-goer taking the Peloton Bike+ for a spin could be in danger of having their personal data compromised and their workout unknowingly watched.  

That’s a potential risk that you no longer have to worry about thanks to McAfee’s Advanced Threat Research (ATR) team. The ATR team recently disclosed a vulnerability (CVE-2021-3387) in the Peloton Bike+, which would allow a hacker with either physical access to the Bike+ or access during any point in the supply chain (from construction to delivery), to gain remote root access to the Peloton’s tablet. The hacker could install malicious software, intercept traffic and user’s personal data, and even gain control of the Bike’s camera and microphone over the internet. Further conversations with Peloton confirmed that this vulnerability is also present on Peloton Tread exercise equipment; however, the scope of our research was confined to the Bike+.

As a result of COVID-19, many consumers have looked for in-home exercise solutions, sending the demand for Peloton products soaring. The number of Peloton users grew 22% between September and the end of December 2020, with over 4.4 million members on the platform at year’s end. By combining luxury exercise equipment with high-end technology, Peloton presents an appealing solution to those looking to stay in shape with a variety of classes, all from a few taps of a tablet. Even though in-home fitness products such as Peloton promise unprecedented convenience, many consumers do not realize the risks that IoT fitness devices pose to their online security.  

Under the Hood of the Peloton Bike+  

IoT fitness devices such as the Peloton Bike+ are just like any other laptop or mobile phone that can connect to the internet. They have embedded systems complete with firmware, software, and operating systems. As a result, they are susceptible to the same kind of vulnerabilities, and their security should be approached with a similar level of scrutiny.  

Following the consumer trend in increasing IoT fitness devices, McAfee ATR began poring over the Peloton’s various systems with a critical eye, looking for potential risks consumers might not be thinking about. It was during this exploratory process that the team discovered that the Bike’s system was not verifying that the device’s bootloader was unlocked before attempting to boot a custom image. This means that the bike allowed researchers to load a file that wasn’t meant for the Peloton hardware — a command that should normally be denied on a locked device such as this one. Their first attempt only loaded a blank screen, so the team continued to search for ways to install a valid, but customized boot image, which would start the bike successfully with increased privileges.  

After some digging, researchers were able to download an update package directly from Peloton, containing a boot image that they could modify. With the ability to modify a boot image from Peloton, the researchers were granted root access. Root access means that the ATR team had the highest level of permissions on the device, allowing them to perform functions as an end-user that were not intended by Peloton developers. The Verified Boot process on the Bike failed to identify that the researchers tampered with the boot image, allowing the operating system to start up normally with the modified file. To an unsuspecting user, the Peloton Bike+ appeared completely normal, showing no signs of external modifications or clues that the device had been compromised. In reality, ATR had gained complete control of the Bike’s Android operating system.  

Tips For Staying Secure While Staying Fit 

The McAfee ATR team disclosed this vulnerability to Peloton and promptly started working together to responsibly develop and issue a patch within the disclosure window. The patch was tested and confirmed effective on June 4, 2021. The discovery serves as an important reminder to practice caution when using fitness IoT devices, and it is important that consumers keep these tips in mind to stay secure while staying fit:  

1. Update, update, update! 

Stay on top of software updates from your device manufacturer, especially since they will not always advertise their availability. Visit their website regularly to ensure you do not miss news that may affect you. Additionally, make sure to update mobile apps that pair with your IoT device. Adjust your settings to turn on automatic software updates, so you do not have to update manually and always have the latest security patches.  

2. Do your research  

Do your research before making a significant investment in an IoT device. Ask yourself if these devices are from a reputable vendor. Have they had previous data breaches in the past, or do they have an excellent reputation for providing secure products? Also, take note of the information your IoT device collects, how vendors use this information and what they release to other users or third parties. 

Above all, understand what control you have over your privacy and information usage. It is a good sign if an IoT device allows you to opt-out of having your information collected or lets you access and delete the data it does collect.  

3. Consider an identity theft protection solution 

Protect your data from being compromised by stealthy cybercriminals by using an identity theft solution such as the one included in McAfee Total Protection. This software allows users to take a proactive approach to protecting their identities with personal and financial monitoring, as well as recovery tools.  

Minimize Security Risks  

If you are one of the 4.4 million Peloton members or use other IoT fitness devices, it is important to keep in mind that these gadgets could pose a potential security risk just like any other connected device. To elevate your fitness game while protecting your privacy and data, incorporate cybersecurity best practices into your everyday life so you can confidently enjoy your IoT devices.

Collaboration with Peloton

As stated, McAfee and Peloton worked together closely to address this issue. Adrian Stone, Peloton’s Head of Global Information Security, shared that “this vulnerability reported by McAfee would require direct, physical access to a Peloton Bike+ or Tread. Like with any connected device in the home, if an attacker is able to gain physical access to it, additional physical controls and safeguards become increasingly important. To keep our Members safe, we acted quickly and in coordination with McAfee. We pushed a mandatory update in early June and every device with the update installed is protected from this issue.”

Peloton is always looking for ways to improve products and features, including making new features available to Members through software updates that are pushed to Peloton devices. For a step-by-step guide on how to check for updated software, Peloton Members can visit the Peloton support site.

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