Voice-Protect Your Mac

SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - You start up your Mac, and it prompts you to speak to it before it will let you access anything on your hard drive. Taking a cue from The Matrix, you reply, "There is no spoon." The Mac recognizes the unique characteristics of your voice and lets you log in. This is no science-fiction scenario-you can do this today with Mac OS 9.

The Multiple Users control panel, new to OS 9, lets you create spoken passwords with a feature called Voiceprint. Overall, Apple Computer Inc. has done a great job of making Voiceprint verification reliable and easy to use. Still, there are a few things that can go wrong.

Know What to Say

Don't make your Voiceprint phrase too short or your Mac may have trouble recognizing it. In fact, if you get a message that says you spoke too softly, a short password could be the real problem.

Also, make sure you don't use your typed password as your spoken phrase, unless you want everyone in hearing distance to be able to access your hard drive.

Know When to Stop

Stop talking before you hit the Stop button when you're through recording.

Otherwise, you're likely to get an error message that says you've clicked on the Stop button too soon. You may also get this message if there's too much extraneous noise when you click on the Stop button. In both cases, the software assumes you weren't done entering your phrase.

If you're using one of the new fanless iMacs and get this error, Apple says it may be caused by the noise of the iMac's hard drive. Apparently, if you had a fan it would mask the noise. There isn't much you can do except try again and keep extraneous noise to a minimum.

"Lost" Microphone

If you get a "No microphone found" error message at log-in even though you have a microphone plugged into your Mac, it may be that you don't have a compatible version of Apple's Speech Recognition software installed. You need version 2.0.1 (which comes with Mac OS 9) or a newer version for Voiceprint passwords to work. To check the version number, open the Get Info window of the Speech Recognition extension.

Switching microphones can also lead to trouble. If the microphone you're using now is different from the one you used to record your Voiceprint phrase, you may get the "No microphone found" error. The fix is simple: rerecord your Voiceprint phrase using the current microphone.

Dealing with Rejection

If you ever change your password in the File Sharing control panel, you'll have to change your password in the Multiple Users control panel to match it-or else Voiceprint won't work. If you change your name in the File Sharing control panel, you'll have to start from scratch and rerecord your Voiceprint phrase.

Altering the tone of your voice or changing the syllables you emphasize can prevent the software from making a match at log-in. If your Mac fails to recognize your phrase, try to repeat it exactly the way you recorded it. If this still doesn't work, don't panic: after three rejections, your Mac will prompt you to enter your typed password instead. Yup, your typed password works, even with Voiceprint enabled. Comforting to know in case you ever get laryngitis.

Changing of the Guard

Voiceprint is the flashiest component of Multiple Users' beefed-up security. In fact, with the arrival of Mac OS 9, you have more protection options than with any previous Mac OS. However, the arrival of Mac OS 9 also means bidding adieu to a couple of older security features.

An indication of missing features is the dimmed-out Protect System Folder and Protect Applications Folder items in the General Controls control panel. You can't select them, which is Apple's not-so-subtle way of saying that you should now use the Multiple Users control panel to obtain this protection.

If you find that the At Ease software is missing, this is no mistake. Once the Multiple Users control panel is installed in your System Folder, even if it's not turned on, the Mac OS trashes At Ease.

This might all be fine if the Multiple Users feature were capable of the heavyweight security often needed in schools and other public places. But it isn't. It's easy to get past Multiple Users' protection simply by starting up from a bootable CD, such as any Mac OS system-software CD. (To learn about other ways that Multiple Users is vulnerable to security breaches, see ""Top Secret OS 9"," March 2000.) If Multiple Users isn't adequate for your security needs, turn to AppleShare IP or Mac OS X Server.

TED LANDAU covers the latest Mac OS 9 tips and fixes on his MacFixIt Web site (http://www.macfixit.com). No password needed.

Setting Up Voiceprint

Finding complete instructions on setting up a Voiceprint password isn't easy.

Apple has provided some of the steps in the Mac Help files but glosses over important details. Here's the full set of instructions and how to get past a couple of tricky spots:

1)Open your Mac's File Sharing control panel and type in a user name and a password (distinct from your Voiceprint password).

2)Open the Multiple Users control panel and enable Multiple User Accounts by clicking on the On button at the bottom of the window.

3)Click on the Options button. Under the resulting window's Login tab, check the Allow Alternate Password check box. Click on Save to go back to the main Multiple Users window.

4)Select your name from the Multiple Users window and click on the Open button.

Select the Show Setup Details option.

5)Click on the Alternate Password tab. If the tab is dimmed, you probably didn't check the Allow Alternate Password check box in step 3.

6)Click on the Create Voiceprint button and type in the password you used in the File Sharing control panel.

7)When you hit the return key, the Voiceprint Setup window appears. Click on either the Change Phrase or Continue button.

8)The next step is to record your password four times. To begin, click on the Record First button. Click on Record in the resulting dialog box and speak your password clearly. Click on the Stop button when you're done.

9)Finally, click on the Done button to return to the previous window, where the button will now say Record Second. Repeat the procedure three more times.

Voila! You're now ready to use your Voiceprint password at your next log-in.

Record Your PhraseVoiceprint gains accuracy in distinguishing your unique voice pattern by comparing four separate recordings of your spoken password.

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