Coding Horror

programming and human factors

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.

I first learned about the noble art of goating from from Omar Shahine:

We have this problem in Hotmail. If you walk away from your desk, even for a brief moment, and your PC is left unlocked, someone will walk in, and send mail to a broad distribution list with something silly. Like "I like oranges", or worse things, some downright embarrassing. For some reason this is called "Goating". I find it incredibly annoying. My office has a lock on the door, so I am in the habit of keeping my door locked when I walk away.

Goating techniques vary from insidious and subtle to invasive, borderline vandalism. I prefer the milder forms:

  • Installing the bluescreen screensaver.
  • Replacing the desktop with a screenshot of the desktop, and hiding all the visible items on it.
  • Switching the mouse from right to left handed.
  • Using the video driver settings to rotate the display left, right, or upside down.
  • Switching the keyboard layout from QWERTY to Dvorak (or vice-versa).

Goating can be quite literal. I once walked back to my computer to find this:

I've been goated!

It's disturbingly common here, which is why I've learned to reflexively press Windows+L when I get up from my desk.

One of my all-time favorite goating techniques, however, is to install the Clippy parody applet on a victi.. er, coworker's machine. Who doesn't love our old pal Clippy!

Clippy: I thought you should know today is Wednesday, November 14, 2007.   Clippy: Your monitor is operational.   Clippy: Sometimes I pop up for no particular reason, like now.

After one particuarly inspired installation of Clippy, an email titled "What The Heck" went out to all employees:

Is this another prank or something? What the heck is this … It's rude.

Look at the right hand corner of this image.

Clippy in action!

So far this stupid thing has told me:

  1. My typing speed is slow.
  2. My productivity has been decreasing, I hope everything is Ok?
  3. My posture is degrading and I should reposition myself.
  4. Finally: It's time to play a game. Let's play hide-and-seek?

Much hilarity ensued, and more importantly, crucial lessons were learned about computer security by all.

It's up to each of us to go forth and spread the good word! If just one person learns how important computer security is, your work here is done. Many additional goating techniques can be found in these two metafilter threads; Office Poltergeist looks quite promising, as does ErrMess. And you really can't go wrong with Clippy.

But don't forget to lock your computer while you're out there spreading the word.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: