Technology

Locked out of “God Mode”, runners hack their treadmills

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Enlarge / NordicTrack owners are not giving up the fight yet.

Sam Whitney | Getty Images

JD Howard just wanted to watch tutorials on cloud security. Howard, a construction worker on sabbatical, spent $ 4,000 on a NordicTrack X32i treadmill attracted by its 32-inch HD screen and the ability to exercise both mind and body. His plan was to spend his time outside of work doing exercises while watching technical videos from learning platforms like Pluralsight and Udemy. But his treadmill had other ideas.

Even though a huge display is attached to it, NordicTrack’s hardware urges people to subscribe to the exercise software operated by iFit, its parent company, rather than letting them watch videos from other apps or external sources. IFit content includes exercise classes and running routes that automatically change the incline of the treadmill based on the terrain on the screen. But Howard and many other NordicTrack owners weren’t drawn to the hardware by iFit’s videos. They were intrigued by how easy the fitness equipment was to hack.

To get into his X32i, Howard only had to tap the touchscreen ten times, wait seven seconds, and then tap ten more times. This unlocked the computer and allowed Howard to enter the underlying Android operating system. This privilege mode, a kind of god mode, gave Howard complete control of the treadmill: he could load apps from the side and access anything and everything online with a built-in browser. “It wasn’t complicated,” says Howard. After accessing permission mode, he installed a third-party browser that he could use to save passwords and start his beloved cloud security videos.

While NordicTrack does not advertise Privilege Mode as a customer feature, its existence is not exactly a secret. Several unofficial guides explain users how to get inside their machines and even iFit’s support pages explain how to access them. The only reason Howard bought the X32i, he says, was because he had access to God Mode. But the good times didn’t last long.

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Since October, NordicTrack has been automatically updating all of its exercise equipment – its bikes, ellipticals, and rowing machines all have large screens – to block access to Privilege Mode. The move enraged customers who are now fighting back and finding workarounds that will allow them to bypass the update and see what they want while training.

“I got exactly what I paid for,” says Howard, adding that even before buying the internet-enabled model, he owned a “crappy” treadmill without a screen and also subscribed to the iFit software. “Now they’re trying to take it away [features] which are of vital importance to me. I don’t agree with that. “

Another NordicTrack owner, who refused to be named, says the treadmill was one of the most expensive purchases he has ever made and was “outraged” when the update stopped him and his partner from using Netflix, YouTube and the English Premier League football seen highlights while they trained. “They actually pushed an update to stop me from being really bizarre,” he says. “It’s so frustrating because this beautiful screen is here.”

You are not alone with your complaints. In the last few weeks several threads and posts have appeared online complaining about NordicTrack and iFit’s decision to block the privilege mode. Customers complain that they spent thousands of dollars on their devices and should be able to do whatever they want with them. Many argue that they can watch their favorite shows, which means they are more likely to spend time exercising. Some say they appreciate the ability to transfer iFit’s exercise videos to a bigger screen. others say they want to use their treadmills for Zoom calls. Many complain that unlike previous software updates, they were forced to lock down Privilege Mode.

“The Block-On Privilege Mode was automatically installed because we believe it would make it safer when using fitness equipment with multiple moving parts,” said a spokesman for NordicTrack and iFit. The company has never marketed its products in such a way that they can access other apps, added the spokesman. “Since there is no way of knowing what kind of changes or errors a consumer might introduce into the software, there is no way of knowing what specific problems accessing the authorization mode might cause,” says the spokesman. “In order to maintain security and machine functionality, we have therefore restricted access to the authorization mode.” The speaker also emphasized that the privilege mode “was never designed as a consumer-oriented functionality”. Rather, it is designed to allow the company’s customer service team to remotely access the products in order to “troubleshoot, update, reset or repair our software.”

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