Don't Forget To Lock Your Computer

I encourage my coworkers to lock their computers. Security, after all, is everyone's business. But often gentle encouragement is not enough. Sometimes, more.. persuasive methods are necessary.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

If you send an email “I’ve been naughty”, or change my desktop, how do I know that you haven’t sent or read other email, or read (even changed) documents you had no right to access?

That’s the whole point! Your coworkers theoretically like you, and they could do anything. Imagine what someone who wasn’t a friend or coworker could do! :scream:

You could re-arrange all the keys on their keyboard to spell swear words on them.

I actually did something similar to a roomate in college. He came back and his keyboard was no longer QWERTY, it was in alphabetic order from A-Z.

My clippy.txt - which will post THESE comments instead of the built in ones:

What are you, a dumbass?
Are you sure you aren’t a dumbass?
Someone just farted!
The guy behind you does twice as much work as you do.
And he makes only half as much!
He’s the one that farted too!
Your design is not to spec, would you like me to alter the dimensions?
Always remember you’re unique. Just like everyone else.
You are a gross ignoramus – 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus.
Everyone rises to their level of incompetence.
Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm
Never let your schooling interfere with your education
Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm
Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.
If you’re too open minded, your brains will fall out.
I see you are incompetent, would you like help in drafting a resignation letter?
I can format your hard drive for you, may I?
No, really I can, should I?
Are you sure?
Are you irritated yet?
Someone farted again!
I see that your hard disk is nearly full, click OK to let me randomly delete files ?
Your breath smells, you need a mint.

There is a trade off between “having fun and teach to lock workstation” and “respect computer privacy and don’t use someone else’s computer even if it’s unlocked”. So the best solution depends on how important “respect of computer privacy” versus “tricking and fun” in your organization.

I don’t do pranks on machines of my coworkers even if I can. So if they don’t lock their workstation then I either don’t do anything or may simply suggest them to lock their machines. I think “don’t touch computer even if it’s unlocked” practice improves security (in comparison with “abusing coworkers’ computers every time they are left unlocked”).

I lock my machine anyway if I’m going away from my machine. Even in such “don’t touch other computers” environment.

Ah, can’t stop myself laughing from the memories of doing this to my mates. That ended ages ago. Big companies have no sense of humour. Don’t laugh, just work. I’m sad now. Maybe I’ll find a way of installing clippy onto someone’s computer. Unfortunately I can’t download it, I’m not allowed access to a floppy drive, a CDROM drive or a USB stick. But I’ll work it out!

That clippy parody is a great find which I’ll use next time!

I listed some of my antics at my blog but some you don’t have include switching Google’s language and making the hourglass a permenant feature.


How many offices contain people that could cause some real harm if they found an unlocked computer?

Wouldn’t it feel silly to have to lock your computer only to keep your mischievous colleagues from pulling a prank on you?

Wouldn’t it feel a bit bad to be in an environment where potentially very embarrassing stunts were certain to be pulled on you any time you leave your computer unlocked?

Luckily where I live, workplaces are such that you can leave your computer open for all eternity, and nothing bad will happen!

More importantly: how do you get the taskbar to display on all monitors?

Wouldn’t it feel a bit bad to be in an environment where potentially very embarrassing stunts were certain to be pulled on you any time you leave your computer unlocked?

If by “a bit bad” you mean “totally awesome”, then yes!

Obviously, everything in moderation.

I always lock my computer before I step away from it (I’m on Fedora Linux), frankly because I am as much concerned with my privacy from my fellow workmates as anything else. A vital habit to get into in a shared office I think.

In my girlfriend’s company they take it one step further: if your laptop is not physically locked to the desk, the sys admin team in the company will confiscate it during one of their regular patrols, and replace it with a warning note about security!

Jugimaster, are you saying your account has no access to anything of value, importance or sensitivity? Whenever I hear of unlocked workstations being used for nefarious means the user’s first line is normally “I thought that didn’t apply to us.”

It only takes pressing Win+L, one second when you leave your desk. Get into the habbit and be safe.


I worked for the Australian Defence Force for a short contract, and the network admin there was very fond of ‘goating’ though I never heard the term. If he found your PC unlocked, the head of department would get an… unusual email from you.

Classic! Gonna try this today on some people at my school.

PS. Love this Site. As a Software Engineering student I can say some of my best reading comes from here.

If you send an email “I’ve been naughty”, or change my desktop, how do I know that you haven’t sent or read other email, or read (even changed) documents you had no right to access?

You don’t. And if I didn’t change your desktop or send a funny email, you wouldn’t even have reason to suspect that I’ve been ordering office supplies against your account, changing your code, and doing heaven-knows-what else that will all be logged as being you, not me.

That’s the point of the prank - a tweak that says “you are so lucky it’s only embarassing”

I’m freaking out that you get so many comments on a topic like this.

But then, mass hypnosis does freak me out.

1 Like

jugimaster said “How many offices contain people that could cause some real harm if they found an unlocked computer?”

Are you certain that this is impossible in your office? It could be that a disgruntled (former) cow-orker might wander by your office and see your computer unlocked and be tempted to take out his frustrations using your access.

Also, many workplaces with larger numbers of employees do not really have any truly effective ways of preventing someone from being able to wander freely, if only for a few minutes. Sometimes, this is even possible in places like hospitals.

Back in school, while studying network security, we did a lesson that involved the class being turned loose on the campus to see what we could get our hands on. We also were to try to figure out what places we might be able to sneak around in, or talk our way into. We did things like dummying up official looking work orders to “install updates”, using a staff roster that we found on the school’s website, in order to get access to computers. We were also able to slip into a lot of offices with unlocked workstations. One guy happened to have a hat with the phone company logo on it and managed to talk somebody with more keys than sense into letting him into the server room while the IT guys were out of the office.

Part of the lesson learned was that unless you take measures to make sure that people can’t get access to your workstations, starting with locking them, you can’t guarantee anything about your organization’s security.

We never make such pranks around here, but we all lock our screens every time we get up. I tend to forget, though, so I was very happy when I noticed Fedora 7 does that automatically after a few minutes.

We used to do this kind of thing where I once worked. “I need a hug” or “I’m a little tea-pot” were pretty common blurbs to all employees from the ‘victim’. Now, it may seem STRANGE to have to lock your computer when you leave it, but the thing is, in order to remain certified, or pass security audits, these kinds of things must be in place - and practiced. How would you feel if you got fired because a criminal accessed sensitive data from your machine when you were at a meeting?

The best trick to pull on others in an office such as this is to take a screen cap of your desktop, and use that image as your screen saver, set screen saver to require login. Sit across the room and watch the ‘do-gooders’ be stupefied by the login screen, instead of having full access to your email. Jokes on them. Too funny.

I should also point out that the instructor taught that class at least once per year, so you’d think that the staff would learn.

Lesson 2: Security must made to be part of the company culture.

The Clippy prank is great. Used it about 10-minutes after reading the article