Biden has a Peloton bike, and that raises security issues at the White House

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WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – President-elect Joe Biden moves into the White House on Wednesday (Jan 20) facing many weighty issues: a global pandemic. A crushing recession. Racial injustice. Right-wing extremism.

But Mr Biden’s personal weight-control and exercise regimen will face a different kind of burning question: Can he bring his Peloton bike with him?

The answer, cybersecurity experts say, is yes. Sort of. But more on that later.

A Peloton, for the uninitiated, is part indoor stationary bike, part social media network. The bikes are expensive – upward of $2,500 (S$3,313) apiece – and have tablets attached, enabling riders to livestream or take on-demand classes and communicate with one another. Each rider has a “leader board name”, a unique identifier posted on the screen alongside “output”, a measure of how hard the rider is working.

When Mr Biden was cloistered during the coronavirus surge this spring, The New York Times reported that he began each day “with a workout in an upstairs gym that contains a Peloton bike, weights and a treadmill”.

The Biden team did not respond to requests for comment, but a person close to the president-elect said that Mr Biden and his wife, Mrs Jill Biden, engage in regular morning negotiations over who gets to ride first.

But the Peloton tablets have built-in cameras and microphones that allow users to see and hear one another if they choose, and for Mr Biden, therein lies the rub.

The last thing the Central Intelligence Agency wants is the Russians and the Chinese peering or listening into the White House gymnasium.

Last week, Popular Mechanics warned about the security risk under the headline, “Why Joe Biden Can’t Bring His Peloton to the White House”.

The article prompted an explosion of chatter in Peloton world, but really, cybersecurity experts say, if Mr Biden wants his bike, he can surely have it, though it might bear little resemblance to the off-the-assembly-line version after the Secret Service and the National Security Agency are finished with it.

Mr Biden would not be the first occupant of the White House whose desire for electronics clashed with the cybersecurity needs of being president. President Donald Trump flouted White House security protocols by calling old friends on his iPhone. President Barack Obama insisted on bringing his BlackBerry to the White House, and later wanted to use an iPad, to much opprobrium at the time. Security experts found a way to make it happen.

“Presidential security is always about balancing presidential needs and desires and the relative security risk of any single thing,” said Mr Garrett Graff, director of the cybersecurity initiative at the Aspen Institute, a research organisation. “The threat is real, but it is presumably a manageable risk given enough thought and preparation.”

To make the bike White House friendly, the camera and the microphone in the tablet would have to be removed, said Mr Richard Ledgett Jr, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency. He would advise Mr Biden to pick a nondescript user name and change it every month, and keep the bike far from any place where there might be sensitive conversations.

“If he’s the kind of guy who pedals and talks to people, that could be problematic,” said Mr Ledgett.

Bastion Balance Seoul.