Full Disclosure

DISCLAIMER: I got two of these devices for free, you guys, because the people at GKChain are awesome. I emailed them kind of desperately searching for a solution to the problem of being unable to lock my computer because I can’t type in my own password, and they sent me these two Gatekeeper devices for free. They have placed no restrictions upon what I can say about the devices and my experiences using them.

They have also given me a code for wheeled ones - readers of Robots and Cake get a 25% discount on any Gatekeeper device if you use the following code when checking out: GKROBO25 at Amazon and the GKChain online store. But read the review first to see if this is something you actually can use (it’s a little niche!).

So, What’s this Gatekeeper Then, Stuart?

Gatekeeper is a system that allows a user to automatically lock and unlock their computer when they move in and out of a defined range from their computer whilst holding the Gatekeeper keyfob.

What’s in the Box?

The gatekeeper comes in a nice little blue box containing the Gatekeeper Key, the Gatekeeper Lock (a little USB dongle), a CR2032 battery and a combined keyring/lanyard.

The Gatekeeper Key itself seems like a quality product: their industrial design is clearly very good and my Designated Pair of Hands™1 reports that it feels nice to hold, which I know has very little to do with how it functions but it’s always nice to see that kind of attention to detail. The only thing that appears to be missing is a blue LED, because as we all know every piece of technical equipment on the planet could be improved with the addition of a single blue LED! Trufax. (My wife hates those little lights and maniacally wraps everything in black electrical tape to block them out.)

How Does It Work in Theory?

You plug the lock into your computer and you put the key around your neck or clip it on your wallet or whatever. Then whenever you walk or drive away from your computer, a lockscreen slams down and the computer automatically locks. You come back, the computer unlocks. No passwords.

Gatekeeper uses some secret sauce to work out how far away you (the keyholder) are from the USB Lock plugged in to your computer. I did ask them about it and they wouldn’t tell me! Damn them. Anyway, the range is basically a sphere with the USB Lock at its centre. You can adjust the size/range a bit in the app; so you can make that sphere so small that you have to be must physically touching to be able to lock and unlock your computer or you can make it big enough that the detection range becomes between 6 to 8 feet. I have it set up so I can drive up to my computer and it recognises me - I don’t have to touch or manipulate anything. This is the MAIN thing I wanted it for and it’s actually great. I’m so happy to be able to just drive away from my screen and know everything is secure. I have a lot of strangers in my house and it’s pretty great to regain this level of privacy.

You can also set it up such that you have to be BOTH in detection range of the USB lock AND you have to press the button on the Gatekeeper Key itself, but for obvious reasons I don’t use this. (I can’t use my hands so not much button pushing or lever pulling from me generally!)

You have to install the Gatekeeper software; it comes in Mac and Windows versions. No Linux. The setup is easy, just follow the instructions - I had no problem at all. You have to register the key and lock to the app to get the whole thing to function.

How Are You Using It in Practice?

As I can’t use my hands I’m not going to be pushing the button on the Gatekeeper as part of the unlock process, so I have the USB Lock plugged into my computer, the macOS software installed on my (macOS Sierra) iMac and the lanyard wrapped around my wheelchair.

Set Up and Usage

This setup process is for a Mac but my guess is Windows goes pretty much the same. I’ve tried to make this clear and easy for non-techy people to follow.

Firstly you need to unpack the USB Lock, Gatekeeper Lock, battery and lanyard. Get a Designated Pair of Hands™ to put the battery into the back of the Gatekeeper Key for you and then to plug the USB key into your computer.

Grab the Gatekeeper software from the GKChain Software Downloads page and install it. The first time you install it on any recent version of macOS you will probably see a pretty scary looking message saying that the software can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer looking like this:

Unidentified Developer

This is part of Apple’s security model and is designed to help you avoid installing malware or other harmful products. As this is new software developer hasn’t signed it yet with a cryptographic key. I am pretty sure they will do that when they reach a more mature version. In the meantime I don’t believe that this software is doing anything harmful so I was happy to go to the Security & Privacy Pane of System Preferences but obviously YMMV:

Clicking Open Anyway

Click Open Anyway and then click Open on the resulting dialog box.

Clicking Open

After that I was able to open the Gatekeeper installation package from the Downloads folder and continue installation as normal. This is what the installation process looks like:

When you first double-click on the installation package you will see this screen. Click Continue:

Install Screen 1

We do not want to change the default install location which is in your Applications folder, so we don’t need to do anything other than pressing Install and entering your password when asked for it:

Install Screen 2

When it has successfully installed, you will see a screen with a message saying “the installation was successful”, click Close:

Successful installation

Now you can double-click on the Gatekeeper application in your Applications folder, when you do that you will be asked if you wish to register a Gatekeeper Key. The answer is yes, so that’s the button you click:

Gatekeeper key request

This next step is where your Designated Pair of Hands™ comes in. You need to get them to hold the Gatekeeper Key next to the USB Lock plugged into your computer for a little while until the blue progress bar fills up and screen changes from this:

key and lock pairing

To this success message. You need to click OK:

Successful key pairing

All that done you will then be taken to the Gatekeeper configuration page, which looks like this:

Gatekeeper configuration panel

As you can see from the above image, I have mine set up so that it both locks and unlocks my computer. After some trial and error I have the Lock Distance set to just over halfway along the options bar. I set it like that so that I could just drive up to my computer, which I have mounted on a wall (I don’t have a desk, obviously, as I don’t use my hands so don’t need a keyboard or mouse etc.) You need to set this option to whatever lock and unlock distance is most comfortable for fit you.

To finish the process you need to click Save and close the Gatekeeper configuration window. Gatekeeper WILL NOT LOCK OR UNLOCK your computer whilst its configuration screen is open.

Any Downsides?

At the moment it seems the bulk of the development work is going into developing the Windows software as I would imagine this is a larger slice of their market. There is a macOS version you can download that isn’t as full featured and is being developed a little more slowly, but it is functional and that’s the one I’m using day-to-day. It has a couple of quirks more of which I will talk about later.

So, Should I Buy One?

Yes. If you are quadriplegic or have some other disability which precludes you from locking your computer independently, then I would say that this is a pretty good solution that will allow you to control access to your computer much more than you would otherwise be able to. For instance you don’t need to tell anyone what it does, or ever mention it to anyone, and you don’t need to hand over a password to a care worker (negating the purpose of having a password at all!).

Why Do You Want a Device like This, Stuart?

Because privacy.

I was going to leave my explanation as to why I wanted a device like this with those two words because I think it neatly encompasses everything, but my editor suggested I expand somewhat. So: if you’re quadriplegic the first three things are taken away from you when you either have an accident, or find yourself quadriplegic in some other way are your physical abilities, your privacy, and your ability to independently take risks. Not necessarily in order, but they all will be taken from you and getting back is extremely difficult.

I’m never going to get my physical ability back so I’m not going to waste my time looking for a solution.

My ability to independently take risks is always going to be limited, and by this I mean things like skydiving, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting etc, so at the moment my solution is to go downhill slightly too fast when it is wet and do a small skid at the bottom of the hill. Woooooo!

Your privacy is taken because your house is full of people, you can’t do anything for yourself and so you have to ask someone else to do everything. You miss being on your own. You really miss doing things on your own. Everything you do is mediated through either a third person or a piece of third-party technology. The only privacy I have is inside this computer and inside my laptop. The inability to lock that up so that only I could read it was driving me slightly insane. There is absolutely nothing interesting on my laptop to anybody else, but it’s my laptop and I don’t want anybody else seeing what I write, just like the rest of you. I just want a tiny space in the world that is just mine.

There are obviously ways that somebody could circumvent this set up and get access to my computers but those people are not part of my Threat Model at the moment so the Gatekeeper does the job I need it to. It’s pretty great.

  1. A.k.a. my wife. 

reviews, products, privacy, security, gatekeeper, and accessibility

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