Posted on 4th May 2016 by Russell Harris

Lock your computer screen instantly in OSX El Capitan

lock your os x screen

Back in June 2012, I blogged about ‘How to Instantly Lock your Mac OS X Screen in Lion‘ and then in January 2014, I updated that blog for OS X Mavericks.

This time round I thought I’d revisit this feature and report back on my findings trying to lock the screen of a Mac running the recently released OS X El Capitan 10.11, since during OS X training courses I find that this is a very common question I am asked by students so I’ve written a blog showing you how to lock your computer screen instantly in OSX El Capitan.

First of all, let’s explain what we mean by ‘locking the screen’.

Locking your Mac’s screen involves the OS X login window being displayed quickly without having to save and quit all documents and apps and fully log out of your user account before you can walk away from your computer.

This can be a great security measure to compliment a secure user account password. While this may not prevent your Mac from being stolen or your data being erased, it can be a very quick and easy way to prevent unauthorised access to your user account and data.

The easiest and quickest way to lock an OS X screen is to put the display to sleep, ensuring you have configured your Mac first to ask for a password after sleep or screen saver.

How to lock your Mac screen using Display Sleep

Firstly, you will need to have your login password enabled for sleep and screen saver:

Step 1 Launch System Preferences
Step 2 Open the ‘Security & Privacy’ preference pane and select the ‘General’ tab
Step 3 Select the checkbox next to ‘Require password after sleep or screen saver begins’ – you can select either immediately or a preferred time interval

 

os x security and privacy settings

Setting the ‘Require password’ option to ‘immediately’ is therefore the more secure option and will toggle a locked screen immediately your computer goes to sleep or initiates the screen saver.

os x require password immediately

Notice there is an option here to ‘Show a message when the screen is locked’. Simply unlock the golden padlock with your admin user account credentials and then click ‘Set Lock Message’ to add some text to appear at the lock screen.

show-a-message

Step 4 Close System Preferences and you’re done!

 

Once you have the password feature setup, you are ready to toggle display sleep.

To do this you can perform EITHER of the following :

  • Use the keyboard shortcut of holding down the ‘Control+Shift+Eject’ keys together (if your mac has an internal Optical Drive and an Eject key)
  • Use the keyboard shortcut of holding down the ‘Control+Shift+Power’ keys together (if your mac does NOT have an internal Optical Drive or an Eject key)

In both cases, you will see your Mac’s display shut off immediately, while the system continues to run in the background. This is not sleep mode so your Mac will still function, you have just put the display to sleep.

Press any button to wake the display up and you should be asked to authenticate with your user’s password to unlock the screen.

this mac is locked

Notice the ‘Lock Message’ at the bottom which was added in Security & Privacy Preferences.

Other methods of locking your Mac

There are other methods of locking your Mac. For example;

    You can simply switch back to the login window;

  • You can enable a Keychain Access status menu in your menu bar;
  • You can configure a screen saver Hot Corner; or, more obviously
  • You can just put your Mac to sleep

However, for me, I think these methods either take longer to setup and use, or require data to be saved first, therefore I prefer the Display Sleep option.

Below, I’ve detailed how you can toggle these other methods should you prefer them.

How to enable a lock screen experience by quickly switching back to the login window

An alternative way to lock the screen is to just click on your username on the right top corner of the Finder menu bar and choose ‘Login Window…’.

This will simply take you to the login window where you need to enter your password to log back in.

However, this doesn’t technically just lock the screen, this saves unsaved changes for example caching all your apps, documents and background processes to be able to bring back the login window and puts your user account in a ‘reserved’ state.

This leverages the Application and Document resume feature Apple introduced with OS X Lion.

So, this can take a while depending on what apps, documents and background processes you have open and if there are any unsaved changes.

Also, this feature would require ‘fast user switching’ to be enabled in Users & Groups preferences.

Step 1 Launch System Preferences
Step 2 Open the ‘Users & Groups’ preference pane and select ‘Login Options’ at the bottom left
Step 3 Unlock the golden padlock with your admin user account credentials
Step 4 Select the checkbox next to ’Show fast user switching menu as’

 

show fast user switching menu

Step 5 Select the Fast user switching menu at top right of your screen which should display the name of the current logged in user and select ‘Login Window…’

apple admin login window

You should now be returned back to the login window, effectively locking your Mac from anyone else accessing it, but without having to fully log out as a user.

Remember the ‘Display Sleep Lock’ feature quickly shuts down the display screen and forces user authentication WITHOUT caching and preserving the user environment.

So ‘Display Sleep Lock’ is a much quicker option if you need to run away from your desk quickly, as returning to the Login Window may take some time if there are files and apps to cache and settings to save.

If you are concerned about loss of data though, switching back to the Login Window could be the safer bet.

How to enable a lock screen experience by adding the Keychain status menu to the main menu bar of OS X

A popular option for locking the screen is to add the Keychain status menu to the main menu bar of OS X.

Step 1 Launch Keychain Access from /Applications/Utilities
Step 2 From the Keychain Access application menu, select to access Keychain Preferences

 

access keychain preferences

Step 3 From the ‘General’ preferences tab, Tick the box for ‘Show keychain status in menu bar’

 

show keychain status in mneu bar

Step 4 You can now select the ‘Keychain padlock icon’ in the main menu bar at the top right of your screen to lock your Mac’s screen

 

lock screen

How to enable a lock screen experience by initiating a screen saver Hot Corner

An option i also use is to setup a ‘Hot Corner’ to start the screen saver immediately and thus lock the screen, (providing you have configured your login password to be enabled for sleep and screen saver as listed at the beginning of this blog).

select hot corners decide which corner to use start screen saverNow, every time you move your mouse pointer right into the selected corner of the screen, the Screen Saver will start and thus lock your screen.

(You need to get the mouse pointer right into the corner of the screen and hold the mouse pointer there for a couple of seconds otherwise this Hot Corner will not be triggered).locked screenNotice this is a locked screen but with the Screen Saver as the background instead of your Desktop picture which the login window will display.

How to enable a lock screen experience by initiating sleep mode:
You could also just put your entire Mac into sleep mode, which will also toggle the required user password on wakeup, (providing you have configured your login password to be enabled for sleep and screen saver as listed at the beginning of this blog).

However, you Mac is now in sleep mode and background services may not run unless you have the latest portable macs which have the Power Nap feature.To do this you can perform ANY of the following:

  • Select ‘Sleep’ from the main Apple menu at the top left of your screen
  • Close the Display lid of your Apple Portable
  • Use the keyboard shortcut of holding down the Command+Option/Alt+Eject keys together (if your Mac has an internal Optical Drive and an Eject key)
  • Use the keyboard shortcut of holding down the Command+Option/Alt+Power keys together (if your Mac does NOT have an internal Optical Drive or an Eject key)
  • In OS X Mavericks and later, simply press the Power key

(This last option triggered by updating to OS X Mavericks, means that you can no longer simply press the power button to bring up the ‘Restart, Sleep, Cancel, Shut Down’ pop up.

In OS X Mavericks, Hold down the Control key whilst pressing the power button to bring up this menu to quickly choose one of these options).

To disable the power button sleep feature, read this blog.Blog SummaryLocking your Mac’s screen, whichever way you wish to do it, is a great option to enable in environments where you may have sensitive data on your Mac that you want to ensure is not accessible when you leave your Mac powered on and do not want to fully log out of your user account.

Or, like me, you have a mischievous colleague who you cannot trust with your Mac if you walk away and leave yourself logged in! :)I hope you have found this blog useful.

If you would like to learn more about OS X or just the Mac in general, then take a look at our collection of introductory training courses.We also have a large collection of Mac training and support training courses which you may also find useful.

Apple recently announced the El Capitan version of its very popular OS X Support Essentials (http://training.apple.com/pdf/elcapitan101.pdf), why not be one of the first to attend this course and add a new certification to your C.V by booking online with us?

Disclaimer:While the author has taken care to provide our readers with accurate information, please use your discretion before acting upon information based on the blog post. Amsys will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/inconvenience/damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.This feature has been tested using OS X v10.11.4 which was the latest release of OS X at the time of writing.

Step 1 Launch System Preferences
Step 2 Open the ‘Desktop & Screen Saver’ preference pane and select the ‘Screen Saver’ tab
Step 3 Click on the ‘Hot Corners…’ button
Step 4 Decide which corner of your screen you wish to move the mouse pointer to for the screen saver to be triggered, (i opt for bottom left), then click on that corner’s selection pull down menu
Step 5 Select ‘Start Screen Saver’ from the pull down menu