Trick mouse keeps the screen saver at bay

mouse_wiggler

[Jerry] wrote in to share a little device he built to solve a problem he was having at work. You see, every computer in his office has a policy-enforced idle timeout, requiring the user to enter a password in order to regain access to their desktop.

This is a huge pain, since he sporadically uses an old computer for the sole purpose of monitoring some applications running in his data center. With the computer timing out every 10 minutes, he is constantly required to enter his password in order to take a 10 second glance at the screen to ensure everything is OK.

Rather than circumvent the screen saver using a local security policy or by implementing a microcontroller-based signal generator, he opted to create a mechanical solution instead. His computer’s optical mouse resides inside a wooden frame, and is periodically swept from side to side by an ATmega-controlled servo, keeping the screensaver permanently at bay.

Call it a hack, call it a kludge, call it what you will. All we know is that while we might have done it a little differently, it works just fine for [Jerry], and it generates all sorts of interesting conversation to boot.

Stick around for a quick video demonstration of his mouse wiggler box.

Comments

  1. andar_b says:

    I fully understand that we live in such a world…but it is truly sad that we must come up with moronic rules like this to protect our data from ‘the bad guys.’

  2. Chuck Weiss says:

    Pure genius! And lighten up people, it’s obviously an over-engineered solution to a rather simple problem.

    I wonder if there’s another workaround using an IR or visible light LED which could be built into a little cradle, which an optical mouse could be placed on. Every few minutes the LED would illuminate which would “wake up” the mouse and hence accomplish the same result without any moving parts.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Or place a heavy object’s weight on a useless key (say, scroll lock)?

  4. IJ Dee-Vo says:

    It really seems to bother people when a hack is posted that uses “other” methods to accomplis something, or it is over enginnered. I guess they are upset they didn’t think of it first or have the skills to overengineer things

  5. Colecoman1982 says:

    Personally, if you needed to do something physical like this (because, for instace, the system is too locked down to use permissions or an application) I’d just use string to tie the mouse to a cheap oscillating fan.

  6. Anonymous says:

    So, spending unnecessary time/money/effort is a skill? I thought it was just being wasteful.

  7. profke says:

    just take a large paperclip and shove it onto the CTRL-key….

    or do it the legit way, and ask an exception to the domain policy

  8. TomThegeek says:

    I know lots of other solutions to the problem have been posted but here’s another: http://www.autoitscript.com/forum/topic/13075-killsaver/

    Just a simple little script that moves the mouse every so often (but only if the mouse is idle) so the screensaver doesn’t kick in.

    It doesn’t require installation or admin privileges to run.

  9. Fili says:

    Some people just like to use a huge hammer for a tiny nail… (me too :P)
    Put the mouse on a regular hand watch. The watch’s hands will trick the mouse to detect motion and it will move the pointer a little on the screen, preventing the scrensaver. At the end of the work day, you put the watch on your wrist and go home. Or just use an ultra-cheap mouse, that keeps moving the pointer because it’s so crappy :D

  10. wagdog says:

    Yup! yetihehe’s suggestion — optical mouse on an analogue watch work quite well:

  11. wagdog says:

    An even more over-engineered solution to keeping the mouse in motion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7ZYdK8qks8

  12. Patrick says:

    Guys guys, you’re forgetting the point of this project, if it was a normal run of the mill change in local policy it would not be worthy of being posted to HACKADAY.com!

  13. jomegat says:

    I turned a computer fan into something like a turntable once – it was an exercise wheel for my mouse. I have also suspended my mouse from an oscillating fan (as suggested by a previous poster).

    After reading this, I folded my laptop screen flat down and placed my mouse on it, positioned right over the cursor. While doing so the cursor moved left, making the laptop think the mouse had moved right. So it moved the cursor right again. That’s what I call a negative feedback loop! I might connect a second monitor up so I can watch the cursor move around (the stupid mouse is in the way!)

  14. ral says:

    This is very much like this post from a little while back.

    http://hackaday.com/2010/02/11/keyboard-keepalive/

  15. UltimateJim says:

    Auto-it script woulda been 5minutes… lol

  16. Edgeman says:

    We had a similar problem in our operations room for the data center, now the PC runs an AutoIT script that moves the mouse cursor if there hasn’t been any activity at the machine for 10 minutes. That way we can still use the machine like normal, but the screen saver never kicks in.

  17. Life2Death says:

    IF like the last poster said, its two pc’s in one cube: Remote desktop would be the better solution -> can be run in a secondary monitor off the first pc. FAIL

    Otherwise, a vbs that sends the pause/break or scroll lock key pulse every 60 seconds would be enough.

  18. edonovan says:

    What is preventing him from using the multitasking features of his workstation and ditching the extra computer altogether?

    Then you get your bonus points for being green, too.

  19. rostit says:

    Nick Burns has a lot of HaD logins.

    He made a silly fun solution.

    Some of you people need to investigate the world outside the web.

  20. Better idea, RFID scanner which only jiggles the mouse if the user’s existing keycard is in range.

    Problem solved, AND as long as the guy is sitting near the PC it will work fine.
    Run coil along length of the keyboard edge and another one down the side of the desk just to make sure.

    I’d like to see the auditor find fault with this, it is brilliant. Unspoofable and guarantees that if the admin goes off to do another job elsewhere in the building the system goes back into password required mode.

    Ditto for hacked keyboard which automagically types the password when keycard is in range again and a timeout indicates it is required.

  21. It occurs to me that optical mice might actually be a security risk if they can be circumvented by the wristwatch method.

    I suggest making custom “unspoofable” mice which sense body heat and only enable when it is detected.
    And only work when on the mat coded for the mouse, so if someone tries to move it to another machine it won’t work until placed back on.
    Also have it sense a pulse just to make sure, we wouldn’t want to make the machine uprising any easier than it is already.
    :-)

  22. Murray says:

    way to complicated, what about keeping it simple,
    replace the servo with a geared motor, and a cam to move the mouse. leaving the electronics for something more exciting.

  23. Max says:

    I do have to admit this is following in most distinguished footsteps: unfortunately, I seem to recall Edison losing his job as a telegraph operator over an ingenious little device – not unlike this one – that conveniently transmitted the letter “A” meant to prove he was awake for him every half hour while he was sleeping…

  24. FrieK says:

    That’s just stupid really, how about making a simple script that either moves your mouse by 1px every 9 minutes or just simply sends a key?

  25. strider_mt2k says:

    Yes, install little pieces of software on a machine that’s already IT controlled.

    Brilliant thinking there.

    My company has a similar policy.
    I don’t mind it locking when I’m not there, but when I’m at my bench and elbows deep in a servo drive I don’t want to have to extract myself just to open the screen with the documentation up again.
    A friend suggested laying the mouse on a spare cooling fan connected to the bench power supply and dialed down very low.
    I added to that by painting every other blade white and it has been an excellent solution.

  26. Rob in Belfast says:

    Heath Robinson is alive and well!

    I love it!

    128bit password protection and state of the art IT policy implementation foiled by a mouse wiggler. Kudos!

    ‘Mouse wiggler’ sounds kinda freaky – like animal control should be notified – HA HA!

    @Tuck – LMAO! XD

  27. veneficus says:

    I work near a datacenter and one of our old machines had a failed battery and because of that it was beeping. Whenever you press the silence button it detected the battery level within 2 seconds and started to beep again. Opening the box and getting to the beeper wasn’t an option as even though you can change the battery w/o shutting the system down, you cannot disconnect the beeper. SO, i created a similar setup to press the silence button every 2 seconds with a servo. It kept the machine silent until the replacement battery arrived couple of days later. So, there are times you gotta come up with crazy solutions like this.

  28. meatsneakers says:

    I bet this would work just as well on the the shift key: http://i.imgur.com/2es7K.jpg

    but what fun is that?

  29. Brian says:

    I worked for a company that was security paranoid, and even inside a locked lab, our computers were setup to screen lock and eventually logout after an hour. Much time was wasted when running a test that would run for hours, only to find that the account was logged out since someone didn’t wiggle the mouse. The computers were not Windows PCs so many Windows specific hacks did not work. We also signed a statement that said we would not install un-approved software. This was a situation that called for a mechanical solution. One day I noticed something strange in the lab. Someone placed the optical mouse over the CRT monitor. Apparently the flickering light from the CRT was enough to wiggle the mouse. Problem solved – no additional hardware no software.

  30. Xb0xGuru says:

    I thought I’d come back to read any replies and I must say I’m not disappointed with the quantity.

    A lot of you still don’t get it, which is a real worry. Either you’re not employed or don’t care about your job. Had you spent the same amount of time discussing this with your IT Admins, you’d have a proper solution already. The data on your work PC is not your property: Remember this fact whenever you’re trying to bypass security.

  31. IJ Dee-Vo says:

    @Murray=then dont use it, no one is forcing you, or better yet do your own hack and post it instead of complaining

  32. IJ Dee-Vo says:

    @ FrieK=this is just frigg’n smart!

  33. Murray says:

    @ijDee-Vo=wow you really cannot tell a suggestion from a complaint, there are other comments here which complain that he is circumventing the company’s security policy. Secondly I didn’t say I was using the device. Finally I think yo are just trolling after reading your comment to Friek.

  34. IJ dee-Vo says:

    @MurrayAs for Friek, he gave no suggestion, or anything. He was simplying dissing the man. Troll? I just don’t like it when people simply compalin about other’s creations. As for you if I misunderstood then I apologize.

  35. Murray says:

    @ljdee-vo=why attack two people then if the rest of the mob are basically saying the the same thing.

    As with programming, this problem to circumvent a company’s security/power saving policy has multiple solutions.

  36. Jerry says:

    Thanks to all who commented! I’m always pleased to get any sort of feedback that is not bot-based.

    To those who were truly offended at what they felt was a significant breach of security, let me just say that I did still lock the screen every time I left my cubical, and so there was no real threat. I’m thinking that if you take life that seriously, about 80% of the ‘Net must offend you. That’s sad.

    To the person who suggested adding a PIR detector to automatically disable the mouse wiggler when I left the area — cool. I might add that feature. Same with the RFID suggestion. And the idea to put the mouse on a watch — that’s brilliant in its simplicity.

    If you were the one of the couple of folks who imagined from the brief write-up that my job consisted solely of watching some monitoring display, sort of a living anachronism like the fireman on a modern train, let me reassure you that I have lots of other stuff to do besides watch for misbehaving apps. I actually write some of those bad boys, too.

    And finally to those who realized that this was a fun project, that folks stopping by to chat actually liked seeing it, and that whimsy should not always be subservient to practicality, a special thanks.

  37. supersmart87 says:

    Why break your head over hardware solution.?!! use this http://www.murgee.com/auto-mouse-mover/ :P

  38. jigga says:

    Open Notepad. Place something heavy on keyboard.

  39. Martian says:

    I say… put a gun to head of the IT person who enforced the 10 min lockout policy. Just incase your password is your better-half’s name, we can also sue the IT guy for trauma caused by typing your password again and again due to the lockout policy…
    Marvin told me that this policy is what powered the improbability drive in HHGTTG, The probability of you typing your password before the screen locks out is almost zero. elementary… And now for something completely different…

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