Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lock down the IR receiver on your Mac for added security

All MacBooks, MacBook Pros, Mac Minis, and iMacs come with an infrared, or IR, receiver which allows them to be controlled via an Apple Remote. This makes it really easy to interact with various media applications from across the room. You an play, pause and adjust the volume. You can also start and control the Front Row application with the remote or navigate through presentations with PowerPoint or Keynote.

These are all good things from a usability standpoint. However, from a security standpoint they present something of a concern. First of all, Apple Remotes are an accessory that users have to pay for. This has been the situation for some time now. When users choose not to buy a remote they likely forget all about the fact that there is an IR receiver on their computer. The other issue is that all Apple Remotes will work with all Apple hardware products, not just the product it was sold with.

In the real world what does this mean? It means that I can sit in a lecture hall during a class and, using my Apple Remote, play around with the media applications on the Macs belonging to the people sitting in front of me. As a sort of social and security experiment I have started doing this in my classes. So far, no one has taken the effort to lock down their Mac's IR receiver to prevent this sort of activity.

There are two ways to lock it down. The first way is to completely disable the IR receiver. The other way is to "pair" your Mac to a specific remote. By pairing, you can still use your remote to control your presentations or media applications and you can rest assured that no one else will be able to do the same thing with their remote.

Open up System Preferences and click on the Security button:

If the lock at the bottom left of the window is locked (which it should be!) click it and enter your password to unlock it. You can click the "Pair..." button to setup pairing with your Apple Remote.

You have to point the remote at the IR receiver on your Mac and hold down the "next" and "menu" buttons simultaneously on the remote. After a few seconds an indicator will flash on the screen telling you that you have successfully paired your remote with your Mac. If you have a remote I would highly recommend pairing it. If you either don't have a remote or if you never use it, then I would highly recommend disabling the IR receiver. You can do that by checking the box next to the "Pair..." button. I have my Mac paired with my remote and unless I am going to be using my remote for something I like to keep the IR receiver disabled.

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