How-To Geek

How to Lock Your Mac OS X Display When You’re Away

Do you leave your Mac unattended when you’re not using it? Rather than leave your Mac exposed so that anybody has access to it, you can lock your Mac’s display whenever you’re away from it. Here’s how.

Power users probably already know how to do this, but it’s not easily apparent for the average user, so today we’ll show you a couple of methods to secure your Mac OS X computer.

Using Keychain Access

The easiest way to accomplish this is to use the menubar shortcut from Keychain Access, which will give you a menubar icon that will let you lock the screen. To get it, open Keychain Access (it’s in ~/Applications/Utilities) and open its preferences. Then, just click the checkbox for “Show status in Menu Bar”:


A little lock icon will appear in your menu bar which gives you a drop-down menu option for locking your screen:

Requiring a Password When Woken From Sleep

An alternative way is to require a password when the computer is woken from sleep. To do this, go to System Preferences -> Security and check the box that says “Require password after sleep or screen saver begins”. There’s a drop-down menu that will let you decide how long it should wait before requiring a password:

Now all you have to do is put the computer to sleep. But sometimes putting it to sleep isn’t always the best options, such as when you have an application doing something that you don’t want o interrupt. In those cases, you can trigger the screensaver to get the same thing.

Triggering the Screen Saver

Triggering the screensaver can be done in two ways, either by assigning a hot-corner in exposé or by creating a shortcut in your Dock.

1. Hot-Corner in Exposé

In System Preferences, open the Expose and Spaces panel. You’ll see a section called “Active Screen Corners” with four drop-down menus for each corner. Pick a corner, and select “Start Screen Saver” from the drop-down:

2. Shortcut in the Dock

In Finder, hit Command-Shift-G and enter the following into the text field, then click Go.


In the folder that brings you to, locate the file called ScreenSaverEngine, and drag that to the Dock:

When you click it, your screen saver will start and will ask for a password when you dismiss it.

Enabling Fast User Switching

The last method is to display the fast user switching menu in the menu bar, which will give you the option of showing the login window, without having to quit all your applications.

To do this, go to System Preferences and then to the Accounts pane, then, select Login Options in the sidebar and check the box for “Show fast user switching menu as: [Name]”. You have a drop-down where you can choose how the menu will be displayed, either with your full name, short name, or just an icon:

And then you can choose to trigger the login window from the fast user switching menu:

Apple really needs to make this easier if it wants to penetrate the enterprise, where security is a huge issue. Simple adding a “Lock” option to the Apple menu can’t be that hard, can it?

Alex is a Mac geek and former hackintosher, as well as other stuff.

  • Published 10/22/10

Comments (3)

  1. Andreas

    I created an automator app that just runs the following command:

    /System/Library/CoreServices/”Menu Extras”/ -suspend

    I put the app in my Applications folder and then created a shortcut trigger in QuickSilver (for me CMD+ALT+L, similar to WIN+L in Windows).

    For me, pressing that shortcut is the easiest and fastest way without all the side-effects you would have with hot-corners, like accidentially locking the Mac.

  2. Chubbs


    I was wondering if I could get some help…my Accounts preference pane freezes everytime I click it. It started after I enabled the Guest Account and now I want to disable it. Please help! I don’t want to have to reinstall. Any way via terminal?


  3. Dan

    Thanks for posting this. The Keychain option is exactly what I was looking for.

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