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October 03, 2004

Unlocked Computers

Received email at work recently:

From: [Somebody on the team]
Sent: [some recent day] 2004 10:09 AM
To: Monad Shell Team
Subject: I'm [Somebody]'s computer, and I wish I was lcoked!

Presumably this mail was sent by someone else who wandered by and saw [Somebody]'s computer sitting there unlocked. It's pretty gutsy/stupid, actually: what if [Somebody] had come back? Yuks all around, or a fistfight? The ne'er-do-well typist would have really had to be in or around [Somebody]'s office when he/she left for a meeting saying something like, "Gotta run, be back in an hour" and decided to pull a quick carpe keyboardem.

There's a Microsoft urban legend about this, which was summarized by Scoble not long after he started at Microsoft:

One thing that employees have warned me about: lock your computer whenever you leave it alone, even for a minute. I've been told that execs at Microsoft sometimes will find an open computer and will send a message to the entire company saying "hi there, I'm "bob" and I don't care about Microsoft's reputation or security and I left my computer running without locking it, so anyone can come and sit down at my computer and have access to our network."

Ummm, right. I'm trying to picture coming back to your office and finding a vice president sitting at your computer typing this...(although the definition of "executive" at Microsoft nowadays seems to include anyone who can fog a mirror). Plus there is no public alias that a random schmo could use, that includes the entire company (at least, there isn't supposed to be)!

The source of this rumor was something that happened in the NT team a few years ago, when someone did send such an email and some debate ensued. But the key point (which everyone seems to miss) was that the debate was not about whether the person who left the computer unlocked should be punished; it was about whether the person who sent the email should be punished, for misusing company resources, impersonating another employee, etc.

I have heard of someone who had their laptop stolen, so I am careful to lock mine (even if the locks aren't that secure). A co-worker recently lost the key, which led to him wandering around hoping that someone else's key matched. Luckily, he had the foresight not to actually attach the other end of the cable to anything, so the only effect was that his laptop had an unwieldy appendage on it.

Posted by AdamBa at October 3, 2004 12:57 PM

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I hit [+]L (windows-L) every time I stand up from my computer, even at home where I live alone with my cat.

Posted by: Ry Jones at October 3, 2004 06:51 PM

I hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and then Enter, which also locks it (since "Lock Computer" is the default button on the Windows Security desktop).

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at October 3, 2004 10:08 PM

You ought to do something with Bluetooth or some such. Pair your PC to your mobile phone and then when you walk out of range it will lock itself.
The range on a Bluetooth phone is only 5-10 meters, so its about the right distance even if you are only popping around the corner.

Posted by: Edward at October 4, 2004 11:51 AM

Actually BV did that for a while sending it to the NT dev team shortly after he started. I received at least one of them, so...

Everyone in my group is really quite fastidious about hitting windows-l before they get up from their machines, so...

Posted by: Larry Osterman at October 4, 2004 08:31 PM

I was on the NT dev team when Brian arrived/returned, and I don't recall ever getting such an email. If you've got one saved, send it to me at work.

I also lock my computer whenever I leave. I realize that I forgot to say that in my original post.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at October 4, 2004 11:02 PM