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How To Lock Your Chrome Session When Sharing Your Laptop

chrome lockIt makes me anxious. When someone asks to ‘borrow’ my laptop for a brief moment a tidal wave of worry is unleashed throughout my system.

The nervy waves lap at the back of my mind long past my muttering of those words I don’t really want to say: “Yeah, sure!”. 

The feeling is largely unwarranted; I’m just a panicky kind of person. But the worry that they’ll stumble across a bookmark, history entry or instant message they’re not supposed to remains prescient all the same.

A new feature is available for testing in the most recent builds of Google Chrome on Windows, Mac and Linux that will go a long way to helping those of you who feel similar: an option to lock your Chrome session.

Chrome Profile Lock

During the introductory passage I’d wager a half eaten Mars bar that a few of you were mentally shouting at your screen that I could/should just log out of whatever desktop I’m using and let the other person make use of a guest account.

It’s a sane suggestion, and certainly one of the most secure. But it’s also a bit of a hassle since I’m unlikely to lend use of my device to someone I don’t trust.

The new feature allows you to “lock” your browser profile session, in a similar way to locking your entire desktop. The feature means the borrower can still access whatever apps and files are stored locally, but won’t be able to sift through your personal data, bookmarks and apps.

Why might you want to do this?

Let’s say that my sister wants to quickly borrow my MacBook to check something online. I don’t want to quit my session (I have apps, documents, etc. open) nor do I want to have to go through the process of creating a separate user account. But, at the same time, I don’t want her to be able to close my tabs, view my bookmarks or log out of my current sessions. A private browsing tab may be useful to a degree, but it’s not entirely sister-proof.

Being able to “lock” my Chrome session means I can neatly tuck my current set of tabs, windows, apps and so on out of the way, allowing her to browse without worry of ‘messing something up’ for me.

How to Enable Chrome Profile Management System

The new Chrome profile management system is not yet enabled by default (ergo it is not ready for primetime, there may be bugs, and so on).  It’s no substitute for being properly security conscious, of course, but it is undeniably handy to have access to if someone else has to use your device for a short stint.

Assuming you have Chrome open and ready:

  1. In a new tab enter the following address “chrome://flags”
  2. Press Ctrl+F and search for “Enable new profile management system
  3. Click the link to “Enable” the feature (on dev, change ‘default’ to ‘enabled’)
  4. Finally, press the “Relaunch Now” button at the bottom of the browser window

When Chrome comes back you’ll see a drop-down button with your Google account name in the title bar. Click on this to reveal your user card, then click on the lock icon when you want to drop a password-protected shield over your current Chrome activities.

At this point the browser will vanish and the User Manager window will appear:

chrome login screenNotice the option for ‘Browse as Guest’? Ideal for the person borrowing your laptop to use.

Once a profile has been locked the user manager window will remain active until you re-enter your password — yes, even after restarting Chrome or rebooting the operating system.

Unlock and pick up where you left off

When the other party has had enough of poking people on Facebook and watching looped cat videos on YouTube, you can resume your session.

From the User Manager select your profile and enter your password (this is the same one you use for your Google account). The browser will then restore itself and you’ll be free to continue with what you were doing…

  • Rickey Shortt

    This is an awesome new feature and I love it. However, it is still a work in progress and I did have some issues with it in Peppermint Linux, and have read about Windows users having similar problems. After locking my profile, I could open a new window and all of my stuff would open with it – bookmarks, extensions, etc. Hopefully all of the bugs will get worked out soon, but I came up with a temporary workaround to my problem, which is a small hassle but seems to work. I am going to directly copy and paste the comments I left on another site describing my problem and my fix, along with a few additional comments and edits added in and a fix of sorts for a second issue I discovered.

    ——————————————————————

    If it gets fixed, this will be a very welcome addition at work, where I have to deal with a couple of prankster coworkers. I stay signed in to Chrome, Google, and LastPass during the work day (and always sign out of all three at the end of the day). However, on Peppermint Linux it isn’t working either. It will lock the window that is open, but if I open another instance, everything comes up. Even if I close the window and then reopen Chrome, everything comes up unlocked. Yes, I could lock the computer, but they all have the same lame password everyone knows. I could probably get away with making mine different and more secure – but it is used by the other guys on occasion, especially on Fridays when I am off. And since I keep and do virtually everything web and cloud based, I’m not worried about other stuff outside of Chrome.

    After some experimentation, I found a temporary, though somewhat clunky workaround until this gets fixed.

    1. Create a new user in settings. I just made one named Guest.

    2. From now on, in the new dropdown, click on the lock to lock your profile.

    3. Important!! When the lock screen window appears, click on the new “Guest” profile. Now, that is the only profile that will open, even if you open another instance of Chrome from the start menu or taskbar.

    4. To return, click on the new dropdown and select “Not Guest”. Sign in to your account and close the “Guest” window. Alternatively, if you would rather just have the lock screen up, once the “Guest” window is open, just go ahead and open the dropdown and click on “Not Guest”. Once the lock screen appears just leave it up and close the “Guest” window. Not ideal, but so far it seems to work.

    ————————————————————————————

    The next day I discovered another problem. In Peppermint Linux, the start menu has a “Chrome Apps” section similar to the Chrome App Launcher. I found that even with my profile locked I could still open all my installed Chrome apps from here. Some of them opened up with no one logged in, but a couple, one of which was Google Keep opened with all of my notes still visible. My solution was to install an application called alacarte and use it to edit the start menu. I deleted Chrome Apps from the menu. I don’t know how secure a fix this is. If someone added Chrome Apps back to the menu, they might be able to access my stuff again. However, I don’t think there is any chance of anyone where I work having any idea how to do any of this stuff or that most of it even exists.

  • Aaron Porter

    I just enabled this and it works like a charm on my windows 7 desktop! Great for people who just want to use the internet for 2 minutes!

  • MisterAlex

    The only issue I have with this (so far) is that your session is lost if your friend closes the guest session rather than handing the laptop back to you with her Facebook and email (or whatever she was doing) still open–and she’s probably unlikely to do that. It would be nice if closing a guest session instead returned you to the account management dialog.

  • Kenny Strawn

    Looks almost exactly like CrOSDM…

  • Akshay Sharma

    It is good but will it hide our bookmarks too.

    • Rickey Shortt

      Yes, bookmarks are hidden.

  • Joseph Dickson

    Looks like it will hide addons too. Great news as I use LastPass for everything

  • David Gabel

    It may be a WIP, but I’m glad that it is a feature being worked on to be implimented in a forthcoming release. Awesome.