Creating and Using Hidden Containers in VeraCrypt

Introduction

In my previous post I explained the fundamentals of the powerful encryption tool, VeraCrypt. If you are not familiar with VeraCrypt, I’d suggest going back and reading it first so that this post will make some sense.

In this post I’ll cover how to use VeraCrypt’s hidden containers feature, explaining what it is for then seeing step by step screen shots on how to set it up and use it.

What Are Hidden Containers For?

Let’s say you have a Bitcoin wallet with a sizable amount of money. You travel a lot, and are concerned with someone tampering with your data.

Often times a countries border agents will want to search your computer. I’m not casting aspersions on anyone’s honesty, but you never know.

Now you could setup a standard VeraCrypt container, but what if a tech savvy person noticed it? They could demand you give up your password to the vault. At some point you would wind up giving in, giving access to data you didn’t want shared (your Bitcoin wallet). This is where hidden containers come into play.

VeraCrypt allows you to create a container inside a container. Into what VeraCrypt refers to as the “outer” container, you can place information that looks important, but in reality isn’t.

You can then create the inner or “hidden” container, giving it a different password. To anyone who inspects the outer container, there is no way to tell it contains a hidden container.

In the above scenario, you simply give up, after some fake complaining of course, the password to the outer container. You interrogator will have no way to tell there’s more in there.

When you want to get to the hidden area, you mount it using the password to your hidden container. Let’s see how to setup a hidden container, then how to use it.

Setting up a Hidden Container

Let’s start by opening VeraCrypt.

Begin the process by clicking the Create Volume button.

For this demo I’ll use an encrypted file container, but these steps will also work when you encrypt a non-system partition/drive, as we did in my previous post using a USB thumb drive.

I’m going to take the default of the encrypted file container and click the Next button.

Now we begin creating a hidden container by changing the option to Hidden VeraCrypt Volume and clicking Next.

Now we begin specifying how we’ll be creating our container. In Normal Mode it assumes we have no container. This is the most common method, and what we’ll use here.

In Direct Mode, VeraCrypt will let us add a hidden container to an already existing container. The steps are similar, although since a container already exists it will skip over the next few screens picking up where we start configuring the hidden container.

For this demo we’ll keep the default of Normal Mode and click Next.

Now we need to specify where to store the new file container. Here I just typed in C:\Temp\DemoHidden.hc and clicked Next.

Now we begin the process of configuring the Outer volume. Just click Next to proceed.

Here we’ll select the encryption method. These were discussed in the previous post, so for this demo I’ll just take the default of AES and click Next.

Now we need to specify how big to make the entire container. This will need to be big enough to hold the data we want to put in our hidden container, as well as the space to put our “fake” data we are willing to give up.

For this demo I’m making it a small 250 megabytes, just to go quickly, but you can make this any size you need.

Now we’ll enter the password for the outer container. Follow the same rules for password generation you normally would. Also keep in mind the outer and (when you create it in just a moment) hidden passwords will need to be different.

I’ve checked on the Display Password box so you can see it, and am using the same MySuperSecurePassword1! password I used in the previous post. Once the password is entered, click Next.

Now you jiggle the mouse around to generate some random data VeraCrypt can use to create the real encryption key. Keep going until the bar at the bottom goes green all the way across. Once it does, you can click Format.

When formatting is complete, VeraCrypt is ready for you to copy your fake data into it. Click on the Open Outer Volume button and a file manager for your operating system will open.

Here in Windows it’s the Windows File Explorer, on macOS it will be Finder, and on Linux it will be the file manager for your particular distro.

Once it has opened, copy some fake files you’ve prepared to put in here. Remember this should be data that looks realistic, but isn’t.

One idea might be an Excel Spreadsheet with a family budget, only with fake numbers. Another might be a text file with some realistic looking but fake credit card numbers. Again, data that looks real but isn’t so if someone takes it you won’t be hurt financially or otherwise.

For this demo I’m simply using the same pic I currently (at the time of this writing) use on my Twitter account so you can easily see what is in the outer container.

Be aware this isn’t your only chance, at the end of this post I’ll show how to open the outer container again so you can add, remove or update files in it.

Once done, close the file explorer, return to VeraCrypt and click Next.

Now VeraCrypt lets you know it’s time for configure the hidden volume. Simply click Next to proceed.

You are now asked what encryption method to use on the hidden volume. It is indeed possible to use a different encryption method for the hidden area than you did on the outer container. Doing so isn’t a bad idea, as it can make it more difficult for an advanced hacker to break in.

For this demo I’ll stick to AES, but feel free to pick something different if you wish, then click Next.

Next you need to let VeraCrypt know how much space you want to reserve for the hidden container.

VeraCrypt examines what you have in the outer area, then lets you know how much of the free space you can use for the hidden area. Typically you don’t want to max it out, so you can go update the outer area from time to time.

Here I’m going to use half of my space for the hidden area, in this case 125 megabytes. I enter that, then click Next.

It’s time to enter a password for your hidden volume. Please note, the password for the hidden volume must be different than the outer volume!

Here I will use MySuperSecurePassword2! for illustration purposes, changing the number 1 used in the outer volume to a 2. In real life this would be very easy for someone to guess, so be sure to pick a password that is wildly different from the outer one.

Next we need to format the hidden area. As usual, jiggle the mouse around until the green bar is all the way across the bottom and click Format.

When formatting is complete you are presented with the above informational message. In short, it says if you open the outer volume without taking precautions (which I’ll show in a moment) you can accidentally overwrite the hidden partition.

Simply click OK to dismiss the message.

OK, you are all done with the creation. Simply click Exit to leave the wizard.

Now let’s see how to use the hidden container.

Accessing A Hidden Container

Accessing a hidden container is no different than accessing a regular container that doesn’t have a hidden one. Simply enter the path to the file (or select the device, such as a thumb drive), pick an unused drive letter, and click Mount.

Enter the hidden volumes password, as I did here using the MySuperSecurePassword2!, and click OK.

You can now open the drive letter (in this example W:) in your file explorer and copy files into your hidden container. Here I’ve copied in a photo I took of the historic Boll Weevil Monument from my old home town of Enterprise AL.

Note that this is the only picture here. The photo I use for Twitter doesn’t appear, as it is part of the outer volume.

When you are done, you can close your file explorer, return to VeraCrypt and Dismount the hidden container.

Accessing the Outer Container

What if you need to access the files in the outer container? For example, you may wish to copy updated fake data into it in order to keep it looking realistic.

It is possible to get to the outer container, but you need to take a few extra steps to prevent over writing the data in your hidden container.

As normal, enter the file name for your container (or select the device), pick a drive letter, then click Mount.

When the mount dialog appears, enter your password to the outer container. But WAIT!

Before you click OK, you need to click on the Mount Options button.

Go down to the bottom and check the box that says “Protect hidden volume against damage caused by writing to the outer volume“.

Now enter the password to the hidden volume, then click OK.

Now it displays another message warning against updating the hidden volume. It is possible, but not recommended, to have both the outer and hidden volume at the same time. Writing data to the hidden area could corrupt both the outer and inner areas.

As such I have a personal rule never to have both volumes open at the same time, and I highly suggest you stick to that rule.

Now you can click OK to mount the outer volume. With the outer volume now mounted, you can now access it in your file explorer.

Here you can see my Twitter photo I copied in originally. I can now update it, or copy in a few more files, up to the amount I have space for.

In my case, I have a 250 MB container, but I’ve reserved 125 MB for the hidden space, leaving me roughly 125 MB to put data in the outer area (VeraCrypt does use a little space in the container for its data).

Backup To Prevent Unintentional Damage

Remember how I said you could give the password to the outer container to an agent, or perhaps a bad guy?

Obviously you aren’t going to tell them about the hidden container, as such they won’t use the Mount Options to prevent overwriting the hidden area. Thus it is possible they could wind up destroying your hidden info.

To prevent this, be sure to make a backup of your container. Store it in a safe place away from home, such as a relatives house or your safety deposit box. This way a bad guy could go so far as to destroy your device and your data will still be safe.

Containers in Containers

One last thing, be aware VeraCrypt has no problems storing encrypted containers inside other containers.

For example, you could use VeraCrypt to encrypt a thumb drive. Then you could create a second file container, perhaps one with a hidden volume, and store it on the encrypted thumb drive.

You could go so far as to give it a different extension, perhaps using .dat instead of the default .hc, so a casual observer would not know it is a VeraCrypt container. When you select a file to mount, VeraCrypt doesn’t care what the extension is.

While this may seem a little paranoid, it is possible you may have a need for this level of protection so I just wanted you to be aware this option exists.

Conclusion

In this post I covered how to use the hidden container feature of VeraCrypt, one of it’s advanced options. Using it you can protect your most sensitive data.

In the next and final post we’ll see how to write scripts so you can automate the process of mounting and dismounting containers.

Veracrypt – A Powerful Encryption Utility

Introduction

I’m a huge podcast junkie. I’m subscribed to almost 200 podcasts on a variety of subjects, the majority of which are tech related.

One podcast I listen to is Grumpy Old Bens. The hosts discuss technology in relation to current news events. In an episode earlier this year they were discussing how to protect the data on your computer should, for example, you need to bring your laptop to a computer repair shop, forget it is there, and the owner decide to look through your drive.

One of the tools they mentioned is VeraCrypt. I’ve used VeraCrypt for years, and before that its predecessor, TrueCrypt.

Multi Platform

As with the other tools I’ve described in this series, VeraCrypt is multi platform with versions for Windows, macOS, and a wide variety of Linux distros.

Sadly there are no versions for portable devices such as iOS or Android.

Be aware what you encrypt is portable between platforms. If I encrypt something using VeraCrypt on macOS, I can later open it on Linux for example, or Windows.

Open Source

VeraCrypt is an open source application. Their website allows you to download all the source code. This allows you to inspect the source code and even build your own version of VeraCrypt from it.

How VeraCrypt Works

VeraCrypt has two modes of operation. First, it can encrypt an entire drive. This can be your main hard drive, a secondary drive, or one you plug in such as an external USB hard drive, USB thumb drive, or even an SD or MicroSD card you’ve placed in your computers card reader.

It uses industry standard encryption methods, and there are a wide variety you can select from, to scramble the contents of the drive to make it unreadable.

As a matter of fact, if you plug in an encrypted USB drive Windows will pop up an error message that you must format the drive for it to be used. Naturally you will want to cancel out of it, but this makes the drive more secure. An unknowing person will pop it in, and just assume the drive is bad. They’ll either throw it away or just reformat it, either way your data is kept out of their hands.

To use the encrypted drive, you’ll need to open the VeraCrypt software and select the drive to mount. Provide your password, and it will make it available. We’ll cover the steps more closely in a moment.

The second mode will let you create an encrypted file container. This is a single, encrypted file on your hard drive. Once you mount it, VeraCrypt will add a new drive letter to your system (on Windows) or mount point on other platforms.

You can move files in and out of this “drive”, create folders, or use it like any other drive. When you Unmount it, the files are no longer accessible.

How to Encrypt a Drive – Step 1

I’ll assume you’ve gone to the VeraCrypt Downloads page, and have downloaded VeraCrypt for your operating system. For this demo, I’ll be using Windows.

Begin by opening VeraCrypt. (As with all my posts, you can open the image to see the full sized view).

Begin the process by clicking on Create Volume. This will launch the VeraCrypt Volume Creation Wizard.

Step 2 – Pick the item to encrypt

For this demo, I want to encrypt an entire drive, specifically an 8 GB thumb drive I’ve plugged into a USB port. As such, I need to pick the second option, Encrypt a non-system partition/drive, then click Next.

Step 3 – Volume Type

We’re now asked if we want a standard volume or a hidden one. I’ll take about hidden volumes later in this post, so for now we’ll go with a Standard VeraCrypt volume and click Next.

Step 4 – Volume Location

Now we need to select the drive to encrypt, in this case our thumb drive. Click on the Select Device button so we can get its exact ID.

The laptop I’m writing this post on is configured to dual boot between Windows 10 and Kubuntu 21.04. It has two physical drives. The first one listed is a second 1 TB drive I use for storing VMs.

The second drive, listed as Hard Disk 1, is the 2 TB drive with its various partitions. I have one partition for Windows (C:), one for Kubuntu (listed as Partition 5). The remaining 1.2 TB partition is shared between Kubuntu and Windows. There’s a few other partitions for the GRUB booter and other recovery items.

Now here’s where we need to be careful. There is a listing for Harddisk 2, of 8 GB, and as your recall my thumb drive that I want to encrypt is 8 GB. This partition though is actually a recovery partition.

Any external drives I want to encrypt will be listed as a Removeable Disks. In the image above (surrounded by the red square) is my 8 GB thumb drive. I’d previously formatted for NTFS it and it is empty.

MAKE SURE YOU PICK THE RIGHT DRIVE!

You take full responsibility for picking the right drive, if you pick the wrong one I take no responsibility.

So with the thumb drive now picked, I’ll click on OK. Then back on the Volume Location screen I’ll click Next.

Step 5 – Volume Creation Mode

Next you are given a choice. In the first option, it will delete the contents of the drive and create an encrypted drive. If your drive is empty this is by far the fastest method.

If there is data on the drive you want to keep, then you should pick the second option. It will retain the files and put them into the drive once it is encrypted.

Because this option is slow, I would suggest moving any files to another drive, encrypting it, then moving them back when done. Even if you choose this option, I would highly suggest you backup everything just in case something catastrophic occurs such as a power outage or blue screen during the process.

Because my drive is empty, I’ll take the default and click Next.

Step 6 – Encryption Option

In this step you are asked what encryption algorithm you want to use. I’ve clicked the drop down so you can see the long list. For most instances, the default of AES using the SHA-512 is sufficient, but I have encountered clients who require a specific encryption algorithm be used.

The good part is that all of these are industry standards that have been vetted by security experts. For this demo I will use the default of AES and click Next.

Step 7 – Volume Size

If we were creating a container we would have the opportunity to select a size for it. In this case we are doing an entire drive, so VeraCrypt just informs us of the device name and the size of it as a confirmation we’ve picked the drive we wanted.

This is correct for this demo, so we’ll just click Next.

Step 8 – Volume Password

In the next screen you’ll enter the password that will be used to decrypt the drive. You can also check the Display password box so you can see what you are typing, which I highly recommend.

Because this is a demo, I’ve used a trivial password of MySuperSecurePassword1! but obviously you will want to use something much stronger.

I’d also suggest storing the password in your password manager. I use LastPass (which I’ll blog about in the near future). It has a Secure Note feature which I store my drive passwords in. You could also put them in Standard Notes, the subject of my previous blog post.

Once you have entered your super secure password, click Next.

Step 9 – Large Files

If the drive or container you are creating is larger that 4 GB then you will be asked if you want to store files bigger than 4 GB on it. (If the container or drive is 4 GB or smaller this step is skipped.)

This will determine how VeraCrypt formats the drive. The default is No, but I almost always change it to Yes, just in case.

After changing it to Yes, I clicked Next.

Step 10 – Format it!

Without getting too technical, one of the key factors for good encryption is having a random pool of data that can be used in generating the encryption key.

VeraCrypt gets this from the movement of your mouse around the window. As you jiggle your mouse around randomly, the bar at the bottom will change color from red, to yellow, then green. For best results, keep moving your mouse around until the bar is solid green all the way across the bottom.

Once it is solid green you can click on Format to begin the process.

After clicking format, you are given the warning that any data on the drive will be lost, are we sure we want to proceed?

If you are sure, take a deep breath then click on Yes.

The Volume Format screen now updates to show the progress. You’ll find it in the center, highlighted by the red rectangle in the above image.

The green is a progress bar, and you can see the exact percentage and speed below. To the very right is the time left, 21 minutes when I took this screen shot.

Be aware even on a fast computer this type of encryption can be a slow process. This small 8 GB drive takes about 20 minutes. A multi-terabyte drive can spend several hours encrypting. For that reason, on large drives, I’d suggest kicking off the process then going to bed.

When formatting is done, you will be provided this informational message:

My thumb drive was assigned drive F when it was plugged in, this message just says be sure to pick a drive letter other than F (or another used one) when you go to mount it. Just click OK to dismiss the message.

When you do, VeraCrypt will let you know the volume was created successfully.

You’re then returned to the wizard, where you can create another drive or exit. In our case we’ll click Exit.

All done, let’s use it!

Now that formatting is complete, let’s see how to mount our new drive.

As I mentioned before, when you plug in the VeraCrypt encrypted drive, Windows and other operating systems will complain the device needs to be formatted before it can be used.

Be sure to cancel out of it!

Once you’ve told your operating system to go away and that you know what you are doing, bring up VeraCrypt.

Because we’ll be mounting a thumb drive, we’ll need to click on the Select Device button.

We will need to scroll down to our list of removable disks, and pick our thumb drive then click OK.

With the device filled out, next go to the list of drive letters above and pick out a drive letter that is unused. for this demo I’ve picked the Z: drive. (Note this will differ for other operating systems.)

Now just click on Mount.

Note I check on the Display password box so we can see what we’re typing, and I’ve entered our super secure password. Before we click OK, I just want to call your attention to the Mount Options button.

One option that may be useful is the mount as read only. This is also where you can setup hidden volume protection, which we’ll talk about later. For now we can cancel, then back on the password entry window click OK to mount our drive.

As you can see VeraCrypt now updates to show our Z drive is now mapped to our thumb drive! It shows up as the Z drive in explorer and we can begin to use it like any other drive.

We can now copy files into our encrypted drive using your operating systems file explorer.

Creating an Encrypted Container

As previously described, an encrypted container is a single file which can be used to store data securely. As the steps to create one are almost identical to encrypting a drive, we’ll only highlight the differences here.

We’ll start on the main screen by clicking Create Volume.

On the VeraCrypt Volume Creation Wizard this time take the Create an encrypted file container option and click Next.

In the Volume Type screen, pick Standard VeraCrypt volume and click Next.

On the Volume Location screen, I’ve entered C:\Temp\demo.hc for the file to store my encrypted data in. VeraCrypt uses hc for its default extension, although if you wanted added protection you could give it a different extension. Once that was entered I clicked Next.

The next step is the Encryption Options, I’ll take the default of AES and click Next.

Next up is the volume size, how big do we want our container. You can size it in terms of kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, or terabytes.

For this demo, I am making it 100 MB in size. I’ve created containers of several hundred gigabytes for storing client data. I’ve also created some as small as 10 MB because I wanted to securely email information to someone (who I’d given the password to over the phone).

For now, we’ll go with the 100 MB and click Next.

Next up is the Volume Password screen, I’ll be using the same MySuperSecurePassword1! that I used in the previous demo and clicking next.

The final step is the Volume Format, where I’ll jiggle the mouse around a while to create a random data pool to be used in encryption. Once it is green I’ll click Format and let it format my encrypted file.

Because this is so small formatting goes very fast. When done I’ll just click Exit to end the wizard.

Mounting a File

Start with the main VeraCrypt dialog. Then click Select File to locate the C:\Temp\demo.hc file (or whatever your file name is).

I’ll then pick an unused drive letter, in this case the Y drive, and click Mount.

I’ll enter my super secure password and click OK and my encrypted file container will now be mounted as a drive!

Your Y drive will now appear in your file explorer, ready to use.

Dismount Your Drives

When you are done using your encrypted drive or container, be sure to dismount it when you are done. This will ensure the container is safely shut down and you won’t lose any data.

Hidden Containers

Hidden VeraCrypt containers is an advanced subject I’ll save for a future blog post as this has already gotten very long.

In short though, VeraCrypt lets you embed one container in another. Let’s take our 8 gig thumb drive as an example.

In the wizard, when you select the hidden container option, it will first walk you through the creation of a regular container. In this case our 8 gig thumb drive.

You could then copy some files into it that look like something sensitive. Perhaps some spread sheets with your family budget, or images of receipts. Stuff you might want to plausibly remain hidden, but if it got out wouldn’t be overly damaging.

It would then walk you through creating a hidden container. You could specify you wanted 5 of the 8 gig devoted to the hidden partition. Into it you could place your important data such as copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, that kind of thing.

The idea is if a bad guy forces you to give up your password, you give them the password to the “outer” or regular drive. All they see is the spreadsheets and receipts you placed there.

The bad guys think they have the info, and have no way of telling you have a hidden partition setup.

When you want to use the hidden partition, you simply supply the password to the hidden area instead of the regular one.

As I said this is a bit of an advanced topic, so we’ll cover it more in the near future.

VeraCrypt Version

Please note the information in this post is valid as of the date I wrote the post. For it I used VeraCrypt Version 1.24-Update 7.

The interface and functionality of VeraCrypt has remained steady over the years so I don’t expect any significant changes, but things on the internet stay forever. If you are reading this five years into the future expect some minor differences between the post and what you see in your version of VeraCrypt.

Conclusion

With the proliferation of hackers and other bad guys, keeping data secure is more important than ever. I create containers for each of my clients to keep their data secure, and separate from other clients.

Additionally I have containers for my family documents such as copies of birth certificates, social security cards, and the like. Made small enough these can be easily stored in places like OneDrive or DropBox for easy retrieval.

As stated, in upcoming posts I’ll cover hidden containers, as well as how to script the mounting and unmounting of your containers.

Standard Notes – A Secure, Multi Platform Note Taking App

Introduction

With this post I’ll continue my series on useful tools and utilities. In this post I’ll talk about an outstanding application called Standard Notes. You can find and download Standard Notes from its website, https://standardnotes.org/.

Now, I know what you are thinking, “Yet another note taking app? What makes this so special?”

Well as it turns out a lot. Let me start by covering some of its special characteristics, then we’ll get a short overview on how to use it.

Multi Platform

As I stated in my previous post on Microsoft To Do, I have a strong preference for apps that work across multiple platforms. Standard Notes has apps for Windows, macOS, and almost every Linux Distro. In addition, it also has mobile apps for Android as well as iOS, both phone and tablet.

In addition, you can also login to the Standard Notes with your web browser and access your notes that way. Handy for when you are using a computer or device that you can’t or don’t want to install the Standard Notes application on.

The notes you enter are synced across all of your devices, much like Microsoft To Do. Enter a note on your Mac, and it will be there on your Android device, or any combination of the platforms I just mentioned.

Open Source

Standard Notes is an open source project. All of the source code is available for you to inspect, and even contribute to.

The syncing ability is handled by Standard Notes using their sync server software. The Standard Notes sync server is also an open source project that you can download. As such you can stand up your own private sync server and use it to sync all of your notes. Very useful if you are super concerned about security, or want to stand up your own Standard Notes server for your companies private use.

This also has some very positive implications to the longevity of Standard Notes. Let’s say the owners of Standard Notes win a bazillion dollars in the lottery. They hang up a “going out of business” sign on their website and head off to a remote island in the Bahamas for an early retirement.

You (or your company) could download the server project and spin up your own sync server. You can restore your backup to the new server, make an adjustment in the app to point to your private sync server and you are back in business. This capability should make any business more confident in adopting Standard Notes.

I mentioned backups, by default Standard Notes will perform an automated backup on a regular basis. You can (and should!) also do a periodic manual backup via the Account menu.

Encrypted Notes

Speaking of security, the biggest benefit to Standard Notes is encryption. It uses industry standard encryption, not something they made up themselves.

All of your note data is encrypted on your device. It is then sent to the sync server over an encrypted connection. As Standard Notes doesn’t have your password they have no way to decrypt the data. Even if someone got access to their servers, all the data will be gibberish.

They do make it clear, if you forget your password, they have no way of helping you. You need to make sure to store your password in a safe place like your password vault.

Freemium Model

Standard Notes uses what is known as a “freemium” model. The base application is free. You can take an unlimited number of notes, and these will be synced for you.

In the free model, you are restricted to text only notes. In addition, you are stuck with the basic color scheme of a white or gray background with black text.

With the paid model, you gain access to different color themes. It also enables you to use the rich set of extensions Standard Notes offers. Most of these extensions are around various editors. One is a code editor, that gives syntax highlighting for a huge array of languages.

There is another editor which gives you a “Word” like environment to do bold, italic, and the like. There is also a MarkDown editor if you prefer to edit and save MarkDown data.

Another editor I use a lot is the checklist. It lets you create check lists, and once you mark an item complete it moves to the bottom under completed tasks. This can be useful when the contents of your checklist are sensitive and need to be kept extra secure.

The premium model is done with subscriptions of 1, 3, and 5 years. The 5 year model works out to less than $3 (US) a month (at the time of this writing), which is very reasonable and funds their sync servers and development.

Setting Up Standard Notes

The Standard Notes website has instructions for downloading and installing it on the variety of platforms it supports, so I will refer you to it for your computer or device.

When you open Standard Notes the first time, it will open up with the Account pane. Note that for all the images in this post you can click on it to open up a bigger version.

You’ll need to start by clicking the Register button to create an account. When you do, it will prompt you for an email address and password. It will then send you an email just to confirm you are a real person.

Note the big No Password Reset box, warning you that if you lose your password, there is nothing the Standard Notes group can do to help you. I highly advise the use of a password manager, such as LastPass, which will be the subject of a future blog post.

Also note that the combination of your email and password is used to generate your security encryption keys. This means your email address will be case sensitive.

YourName@email.com, yourname@email.com, and YOURNAME@EMAIL.COM are all different. When you login to your other devices, you must key in both your email address and password in exactly the same case you use to create your account.

Using Standard Notes

Here is the Standard Notes app with some sample notes I’ve created.

The left side panel is the Views panel. You can organize your notes into groups called Tags in Standard Notes. You can enter any text you want for a tag name.

Additionally a note can have multiple tags associated with it. This will let the same note appear in multiple tag views.

The center column is the list of notes. If you click on a tag, the list of notes is filtered to show just the ones with that tag. In addition to the name of the note, it also has the first few words of the note and the last date the note was modified on (although you can change this in the settings).

In the example above, I have a note called “Harbor Freight Shopping List”. Under the title of the note I have two tags, Ham (referring to my Ham Radio hobby) and Lists. I could click in this area to type in the name of another tag if I wish.

In this next example, I’ve clicked on the Household tag in the Views pane.

As you can see, my list of notes is now reduced to just two, the ones who have the tag Household assigned to them.

Uses for Standard Notes

The uses for Standard Notes are only limited by your imagination. Because your notes are encrypted, you could use it to store information like phone numbers, vehicle VIN numbers, even passwords (although I’d suggest a more robust password manager of some type, such as LastPass).

It could also be used to store all kinds of tips and tricks. Items that don’t necessarily need to be encrypted, but you’d like to store and have handy in the future.

Anytime I have to do a search to figure out how to do something, I make a note so I can refer back to it in the future.

Premium Benefits

As a big fan of Standard Notes, I have purchased the premium subscription. I first did a one year subscription to see if I liked it, but got hooked so when it was time to renew I went with the five year subscription and haven’t regretted it.

Here you can see my Standard Notes paid subscription with one of the color themes applied.

As you can see from my list of tags on the left, I have a LOT of notes in Standard Notes. Here you can see a PowerShell script to remind me how to use the StringBuilder in PowerShell. I’m using the code editor, and have selected the PowerShell language.

This is just one of the many languages available, pretty much every programming language is included.

I also use Standard Notes for check lists, regular notes, and more.

In addition to the editors, the extensions also provide for various color themes, plus a selection of enhancements to Standard Notes. One developers may find useful is the GitHub Push extension, allowing you to push a note up to GitHub.

Want an extension but don’t see it? The Standard Notes site on GitHub has instructions for authoring your own extensions. This is also where you can access the source code for Standard Notes, the Standard Notes server, and more. You can also log issues, make suggestions for improvements and new features, and check for solutions to past issues.

Also note that your premium subscription unlocks the premium features on all of your devices. There is no limit to the number of devices or computers you can have Standard Notes (even with your premium subscription) running on.

Passcode Lock

Another useful feature is the Passcode Lock. This is similar to the pin login feature of Windows 10. You can turn on Passcode Lock in the Account menu area.

When you launch Standard Notes it will prompt you for the Passcode Lock. The lock can be any combination of letters, numbers, and special characters you want. I use a long complex gibberish password for my Standard Notes account, but use a little easier to remember and type Passcode Lock.

I consider this a “nosy person” feature. It keeps a nosy family member or coworker from walking up to your computer while you are getting coffee and snooping at what’s in your Standard Notes.

In addition, you can set an Autolock timer. After a certain amount of time Standard Notes will lock itself. By default Autolock is set to Off.

It also has an Immediate setting, which locks Standard Notes the minute you click away from it. There are also timers for 1 minute, 5 minutes, and 1 hour.

You can also remove the Passcode Lock when you decide you no longer need it.

On iOS, you can also lock Standard Notes using either Face ID or the Fingerprint reader. I would imagine Android tablets/phones that support biometric security also have this feature, but my Android tablet lacks biometric security so I’m unable to test this.

Other Notable Features

I just wanted to mention a few other useful features.

You have the ability to sort the list of notes in a variety of ways. By default it uses most recent at the top, but you can also sort alphabetically. You can also reverse the sort so oldest is first, or titles are sorted Z to A.

You can also Pin notes so they will always appear at the top of the note list, regardless of what sort order you select. In addition to pinning, a note can be Locked, which puts it into a read only state.

You can also get rid of a note by selecting Move to Trash, then go to the trash can and choose to delete all notes in the trash can or just individual ones.

The final feature I’ll mention is the ability to Archive a note. Let’s say you have a note on how to do something in Ubuntu 16.04. It’s highly unlikely you’ll need to use this on a normal basis, and don’t want to see it cluttering up your list.

However, the information is valuable, and on the off chance you may need it you really don’t want to trash it. This is where the Archive feature comes in. In any note, simply pick Archive in its Options menu. The note will no longer appear in the list view or searches.

You can easily bring it back though. First, in the list view’s options menu you can turn on the appearance of Archived notes. Later you can use the same option to again suppress the appearance of Archived notes.

If you suddenly find that previously archived note is useful, you can pick the note, then in the note editors options menu just Unarchive it.

Standard Notes Version

The instructions in this post are valid at the time I wrote it, using Standard Notes version 3.6.9.

Standard Notes is under continual development, so depending on when you read this there may be some subtle differences between your version and the one I’m using for this post. The core concepts should remain constant though.

Standard Disclaimer

I just want to be clear this is in no way a paid for post. Nor do I receive any discount for talking about it. I paid my own money for it just like everyone else. I just love the tool and wanted to share it with others.

Conclusion

Give Standard Notes a try. You can do so for free, and I think once you do you will quickly find it an indispensable tool in your kit. It’s a tool I use literally every single day.

Microsoft To Do

Introduction

This post continues my series on useful tools and utilities. Here we’ll be covering Microsoft’s To Do application.

There’s a famous quote “If you don’t write it down, it doesn’t exist.” A “To Do” list is a great way to capture tasks or information you need to remember. Some people use paper, or a variety of other devices or applications. For me, Microsoft To Do is the place to capture this information.

Some of you may remember Wunderlist. Microsoft bought Wunderlist a few years back, and have transformed it into Microsoft To Do.

Multi Platform

I use a variety of devices and platforms on a regular basis. One of the things I find useful about Microsoft To Do is the availability of apps on almost all platforms.

There are apps for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. On Linux (or other platforms), you can access Microsoft To Do in any web browser.

I also found a blog post that describes an application called AO that runs on most Linux distros. It’s basically a wrapper around the To Do web page. I use it on my Kubuntu laptop for working with Microsoft To Do.

Using Microsoft To Do

I’ll quickly illustrate the various uses of To Do with some screen shots. (Note that you can see a bigger version of any of these images by clicking on them.) The first one shows the basic layout of To Do.

The default view of To Do is “My Day”. To Do allows you to designate tasks for immediate action called “My Day”. More on that in a moment, but here you can see one task for a new Pluralsight course I’m currently working on, the SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher.

The menu of actions appears down the left side of the application. To add a new list, simply click the “+ New List button”. This is very simple, it just brings up a page and you can start typing in your tasks.

You can rearrange the list by clicking and dragging the tasks into any order. Note that by default new tasks are added to the top of the list, but you can go into the settings menu to change this behavior so new tasks are added to the bottom (which is what I do).

Simple Lists

Microsoft To Do can be used for simple lists. Here you can see a grocery list.

To Do makes generating a grocery list like this easy. I can enter my list on my computer, where I have a full keyboard. To Do then syncs my list to all of my devices.

When I pull out my phone in the grocer store, I can simply mark each item off as I put it in my grocery cart. Completed items are moved to the bottom of the list, making it easy to see the items I still need to get.

When I get home, I can either delete each completed task individually, or right click on the “Completed” header and delete them all at once.

Projects

Another use for To Do is project tracking.

Here is the list for my current project, the Mobile Report Publisher course I’m working on. This list is a high level view of the tasks I need to complete for the course.

For each task, I can create a list of sub tasks that need to be completed.

When I click on the task, a pane pops out on the right. I can enter a series of steps for setting up my virtual machine. Installing Win 10, Installing basic tools, and more.

Here is the detailed information for another task in the list, Create Data Source in the Report Portal.

This task only has one step. However, I’ve clicked on the “Add to My Day” which will add the task to the “My Day” screen To Do opens to.

With To Do I can also set a Due Date. To Do makes it easy, I can set it today, tomorrow, next week, or I can pick a specific date. I can also set a reminder, so To Do will remind me when a task is coming up.

I can get an overview of all my tasks with due dates by clicking on the Planned link on the left side of To Do.

Here you can see the one task I planned with a due date. The nice thing about the planned tab is that it shows tasks coming due across all your lists.

For example, I could have assigned a due date for an item in my grocery list so I’d be sure to have an ingredient for a planned meal. Or perhaps I have another list for planned blog posts.

All tasks with due dates that haven’t been marked as complete will show up here on planned, making it easy for me to get an overview of upcoming tasks no matter what list they are on.

To Do and Multiple Accounts

To Do allows you to manage multiple accounts. By clicking on the account name it will show you a list of all To Do accounts you’ve logged into.

Here you can see I have two accounts logged in, one I use for work, the other for personal items such as grocery lists. This makes it nice as I don’t have to mix work and personal lists.

It’s also useful when I work with multiple clients, when the client provides me an account to use in their organization. I can easily keep each client’s task list separate from each other a well as my personal lists.

List Management

The final item I’d like to show is list management, accessible by right clicking on a list.

Some items are pretty obvious, such as deleting or renaming a list. You can also duplicate a list, or print it out.

The biggest feature I like is the “Share list” option. You can share a list with another Microsoft To Do user. A good example is the grocery list. I share mine with my entire family. When another family member needs a grocery item, they can simply add it to the list.

There’s no need to tell me, or send a text, or anything else. When I get to the store, there’s the item on the list. If it’s something odd or unusual, they can click on the item and in the pop out pane on the right add a note to the item to explain why it is needed.

Another use is for small projects with your coworkers. You can assign a task to another person. They will see the task as assigned to them, and as they mark the task, or each step in a task, complete the others that the list has been shared with will be updated automatically.

This makes it nice for a project manager, as they can easily see the teams progress for each task.

Conclusion

As you can see, Microsoft To Do is a great tool for managing lists, or for tracking progress of your smaller projects. The multi-platform capability makes your data easily accessible across any device you are using.

There are many more uses you can put To Do to. I’ve used it for managing home repair projects. I even have some lists for favorite recipes, that list includes the ingredients as well as cooking instructions.

If you can think of more uses for Microsoft To Do, then by all means leave a comment so we can all learn.

Cut and Copy Fast and Easy with Pantherbar for Windows

Introduction

In a previous post, I showed a tool to make Cut and Copy easy on macOS. In this post we’ll look at a tool, Pantherbar, to provide similar capability on Windows.

Pantherbar

Pantherbar is available in the Microsoft Store. It has a free version, as well as a paid one at the reasonable price of $4.99 (US).

Similar to PopClip when you highlight text, it pops up a toolbar.

As you can see from the image above, Pantherbar appears with several icons. The left most is copy, next is cut. If you have anything in the clipboard the paste icon appears next.

The magnifying glass will launch a search in your default browser. By default it is Google, but through the settings you can change the search engine. Finally is the share with windows icon.

Extensions

Pantherbar has a rich set of extensions you can add to it. You can view the full list at http://pantherbar-app.com/extensions

In the free version you can have two extensions active. In the paid version, you can have as many as you want.

In this next example, I’ve loaded three extensions. In the image below I’ve highlighted some text in notepad.

The three new ones on the right are character count (handy for composing a tweet), reverse the text, and remove spaces. In the image below I’ve clicked the reverse text option.

As you can see, the text is reversed immediately, replacing what had been selected.

Note this is a little different than the behavior of PopClip on macOS. PopClip copies the modified text to the clipboard. Pantherbar immediately pastes the new text in.

To be honest, I prefer this behavior. The majority of the time I’m going to put the corrected text where I had selected, so this saves a few steps.

Conclusion

Pantherbar is a useful addition to your Windows toolkit. With its rich set of extensions, you can save a lot of time performing common tasks. You can try it for free, and if you decide to buy the price is very reasonable.

Do note that this, nor the PopClip blog post, are paid posts in anyway. I just like the tools and was happy to pay for them.

To my knowledge there is no similar extension on the Linux platform, at least for the Ubuntu based distros I tend to use. As I understand it, the current graphics engine makes this kind of extension difficult. It’s hoped though that once the Wayland engine gets into wide spread use tools similar to Pantherbar or PopClip will become available on Linux.

If you know of one that exists, by all means leave a comment. I’d love to check it out!