Mac OS - Creating a voiceprint password

What you may not realise, though, is that it is essentially the only way to protect your hard drive from mischief if you share your Mac. At Ease, Apple's now-defunct application for simplifying the Mac OS, no longer works under Mac OS 9 (installing Multiple Users causes At Ease to be trashed automatically, since they share many functions), and even the rudimentary protection provided by the Protect System Folder and Protect Applications Folder options in the general controls panel is no longer available. Open General Controls and you'll see what I mean - the options are tantalisingly still present, but irrevocably greyed out.

A voiceprint password essentially does what it sounds like it does: it allows users on your Mac to log in using a spoken password instead of a typed one. For this tutorial, I've presumed that you have not yet set up multiple user accounts. If you have, then you can skip ahead a bit. I've also presumed that you are the owner of your Mac, or at least the system administrator.

To use voiceprint passwords, you must have a PlainTalk compliant microphone. One of these should have come with your computer, and if not, your Mac reseller can help you out. Newer PowerBooks, iMacs and iBooks have such microphones built directly into them. You also need Apple Speech recognition version 2.01 or later. This will be on your Mac OS 9 CD.

The first thing you must do, before anything else, is open up the File Sharing control panel and ensure that an Owner Name and password are set up. The name and password you use in Multiple Users (not the voiceprint) should be the same as this. Then you can get started.

Note: Multiple Users replaces many of the higher-level security features of earlier versions of Mac OS, and thereby greatly simplifies the process of protecting your Mac. But it still leaves security holes big enough to drive a truck through. For instance, anyone with a Mac OS 9 CD can boot up from that and bypass Multiple Users altogether. For proper industrial-strength security, we'll have to wait for the beefier features of Mac OS X next year. However, Mac OS 9 also provides lower-level security such as file encryption through its under-utilised Keychain function. But that, as they say, is for another tutorial.

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If your voiceprint fails when logging in, you can still log in using a typed password. This should be your File Sharing password, not your voiceprint phrase.

There are a number of reasons why your password may not work. It could be that there is too much extraneous noise in your Mac's environment. If it's a portable, go elsewhere. If not, you might just not be able to use voiceprint security. Or just tell everyone in the classroom to shut up for a second (I'm presuming you're the teacher).

You might not be using the same microphone with which you recorded your voiceprint. The differences between microphones can be very subtle, but the Mac is sensitive enough to be finicky about them. If you can't use the same mic you used to make your voiceprint, you'll have to go back and re-record your voiceprint.

If you change your password in the File Sharing control panel, all bets are off for voiceprints. Even though your voiceprint phrase is not the same as your File Sharing password (or shouldn't be), it won't work once your File Sharing password is changed. Your voiceprint also won't work if you change your name in File Sharing. In either case, you'll have to go back and re-do the voiceprints.

Finally, the lucky owners of fanless iMacs may have problems using voiceprints, because - ironically - their computers are too quiet. The voice recognition software is fairly tolerant of a bit of constant background noise, such as the hum of a fan. What it can't handle is sudden bursts of sound, even small ones, as may be produced by the whirring of a hard drive. Normally the fan would cover these. If you have such an iMac, your best bet is just to keep trying and hope the drive stays quiet for a few seconds while you enter your voiceprint.

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Open the Multiple Users control panel and click the On button at the bottom of the window to enable multiple user accounts. Once you've done this, you will have to type your password to log in every time you start your computer.

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Click on Options at the right of the window. In the resultant window, click on the Login tab. Under that tab is an option to Allow Alternate Password. At this stage, the only alternate allowed is voiceprint, so you don't have to worry too much about the drop-down menu. The fact that there is a drop-down menu is intriguing, though: what will Apple introduce as further alternatives to typed or spoken passwords? Fingerprints? Retinal scans?

Also in this box is the option to allow users to speak their names. I've tested this using dummy accounts with similar names (Matilda, Mark, Matthew, etc.) and, frankly, it's a little dodgy. I wouldn't bother.

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Once you've allowed alternate passwords, click on Save to go back to the main Multiple Users window. Then click on your name, and the Open button at right. In the resultant window, click on the little triangle where it says Show Setup Details.

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Click on the tab that says Alternate Password. If the tab is dimmed, go back to the main window, select Options again and make sure Allow Alternate Password is selected. Once you're in the Alternate Password tab, click on Create Voiceprint.

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You then have the choice of using Apple's default password or creating your own. Only a ning-nong would use the default password, so I won't even go into that. Click on Change Phrase and type in a phrase of your choosing. You also have the option to have the voiceprint phrase appear on-screen, so it's easier to remember, and also easier to guess. See above, under ning-nong.

Contrary to what you may read elsewhere, the voiceprint you create does not need to be the same as your File Sharing password. In fact, I recommend that it shouldn't be. Why? Because your typed password is probably quite short, a three-word phrase at best. Such a short password will be unreliable as a voiceprint. By the same token, you shouldn't use too long a voiceprint, since you're unlikely to say a long phrase exactly the same way twice. About five to seven words is ideal. (I've used a four-word phrase for this example. However, I should point out that "There is no spoon" proved to be an unreliable voiceprint and I now have a much better, six-word one.)

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Once you click OK, it's time to do your recording. A checklist appears with four boxes on it, one for each recording you must make. Click the button that says Record First. In the First recording window, click on Record, and then say your phrase clearly, but not unnaturally. Leave a bit of space at the end before you hit stop. If you hit stop too soon, the Mac will tell you, and you'll have to make the recording again. Once it's happy, click Done, and you'll be prompted for the next recording.

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Once you've done this four times, you'll have the option to Try it. It's a good idea to test it before you leave Multiple Users, because it's a little tricky to get back in if your login doesn't work. If the test fails three times, you'll be prompted to re-record your voiceprint, possibly with a different phrase.

If the voiceprint is OK, you'll get a jolly little message telling you you're ready to use your voiceprint next time you log in. And you're done.