Admit it. You’ve left your computer unattended in a public place.
Whether it was to quickly run to the bathroom or grab a coffee, your laptop was vulnerable, and anyone could have tampered with it. While the odds of someone bypassing your password and installing a virus on your computer with you only a few feet away sounds unlikely, it does happen. Gaining physical access to your machine is the easiest way for hackers to compromise it.
This scenario is referred to as an “evil maid” attack. The name is based on the theoretical situation of a cybercriminal sneaking into a hotel room and targeting your laptop. On the surface, it might seem like there’s little you can do to prevent this situation, other than locking your doors or never letting your laptop out of your site in public locations.
Luckily, there’s an app out there that can help.
Learning from Experience
According to Andy Greenburg of Wired, a similar situation to the evil maid scenario outlined above happened to Patrick Wardle, the creator of a new security app for Mac known as Do Not Disturb. In Wardle’s case, he was intentionally lured away from his room (and computer) by a date — an experience which led him to create the app.
Here’s how the app works. Do Not Disturb sends a notification to your phone anytime someone opens the lid of your computer. So, for example, the next time you leave your Mac unattended at your favorite coffee spot, you’ll be notified if someone tries to quickly steal some of your information.
What’s impressive about the app is the options it provides once someone opens your laptop lid. After receiving the push notification on your phone, you can take a picture of the person with your Mac’s webcam, shut off your computer or record your screen, allowing you to see exactly what the assailant is doing through the iPhone app. If you own a Mac with touch ID, you’ll have a few seconds to disable the app so that it doesn’t alert you each time you open your computer.
The Mac version of Do Not Disturb is free, while the iPhone app will set you back $9.99 per year. If you don’t want to spend money on the subscription, you're able to set up email notifications for free.
Although Do Not Disturb has excellent security features, the app isn’t the ultimate solution for physical Mac security. If the hacker disables Wi-Fi first, you won’t be notified. Although there are ways around the security solution, Wardle states that the app still makes hacking tougher on anyone trying to perform an attack undetected.
"Anything we can do to raise the bar helps. If evil maids know there’s an app that might be monitoring this laptop, they’ll think twice," Wardle says. "If it makes these attacks more difficult in any way, I think that’s a win."
Our advice: just don’t leave your Mac unattended in a public place, no matter what. If you think someone may have tampered with your computer while you were away, reach out to Ascend or your IT support team immediately.
Written by Nik Vargas