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Secret Safe

So here's the problem. You have a Nokia 9300 or 9500. Or a Series 60 smartphone like the Nokia 6630. One of the fundamental jobs of a PDA/smartphone is keeping your personal information. And I mean personal - PIN numbers, passwords, license details, software registrations, web site logins, bank accounts, insurance, etc. But you can't just keep this sort of information in plain text, otherwise anyone gaining access to your device (such as a finder, or thief) would have access to all your secrets.And you desperately want a way to keep your info safe from prying eyes, both on the Windows desktop and on the smartphone itself.

The traditional solution is to use an encrypted database with a PC conduit. In other words a password-protected secure database program, synchronised between PC and handheld. Why is it important to have access to your information on the desktop as well? Partly because data entry is more convenient there and partly because if you do go and lose your smartphone, you'll have immediate access to all your vital information. No having to wait a week for FedEx and then hope your restore function works to a replacement machine.

But almost none (see note below) of the existing third party encrypted database solutions have a proper synchronisation system, each relying on manual import/export, or supporting a basic sync that doesn't handle all entry details.

So, in despair, I've decided to think laterally. If there's going to be some manual intervention anyway, why not forget the proprietary solutions and make your own using built-in or 'off the shelf' components.

Series 80 / Series 60

Symbian Series 80 (Nokia 9300/9500)

What follows is pretty simple. Which makes it fairly staggering that I've never seen it mentioned by anyone else and that it took me six weeks of ownership of the Nokia 9500 before I thought of it.

When I started writing this article (Jan 2005), there wasn't a proper solution for Communicator owners, but Epocware have now released a 9500-compatible, fully syncing version of Handy Safe. But the method below is just as valid as it was and will save you a few pennies, if nothing else.

Thinking laterally, Nokia provide every 9500 owner with a free copy of Zip Manager (originally written by Epocware) and (here's the good bit) the ZIP archive format is an independent one that supports password-based encryption. So, why not keep all your secret information in Documents (Word) and Sheet files, storing all of them in a single, password protected ZIP archive? You don't even have to stop there, as you can add confidential images or any other files that you don't want people accessing.

ZIP Manager keeping your info safe!

There's still a manual step, of course. Once a week (or however often you see fit), copy the ZIP file over to your PC. Then, in case of emergency, you can open the file up, give the password and see your personal files in standard (.DOC, .XLS, etc.) formats, instantly accessible.

There's also the benefit that you can collect all the information in the first place (perhaps exported out of whichever secure system you've been using) on the PC, creating the initial ZIP file there, for added convenience.

In detail, then:

  1. Create Word, Text or Excel files (for example) on your PC and collect into them all your personal and private info.
  2. Create a new ZIP archive (I use WinZIP) and add the above files, choosing the Password option and entering something personal and memorable.
  3. Delete the original Word, Excel, etc. files (and empty your recycle bin, of course)
  4. Copy the ZIP file onto your Symbian OS smartphone.
  5. Install Zip Manager from the 9500 CD, if you haven't already
  6. Open up the ZIP file and use 'Open file' on the content you want to read or edit.
  7. Make your changes, access the info, etc.
  8. Exit Documents/Sheet/whatever and choose to 'Update' the ZIP archive if prompted.
  9. Close the archive. Job done. Repeat from step 6 whenever you need to get into your secret safe.

The archive is automatically updated

Depending on the formats you choose to use, you may or may not then trust the software to overwrite the ZIP file on the desktop with one changed on the smartphone. Personally, I tend to think of the smartphone copy as a 'read-only' version of the master desktop original(s).

The system's quite flexible, completely free and has the advantage of using an industry standard compression and encryption format that can be accessed on any computer in the world. And I think that's cool.

Series 60 (Nokia 7610, 6600, 6630, 6680, Sendo X, etc.)

Although in principle the technique above could work OK for Series 60 devices, in practice the text editing part of the solution isn't exactly a given. Series 60 ships with Notes, a useable text editor/viewer for smallish files but which struggles like mad when the file gets to any reasonable size. Some devices come with Quickoffice and you could use this, or perhaps the slightly buggy YEdit, in each case with your master document inside a password-protected ZIP file, with ZipMan handling the unzipping. But already this might be too cumbersome for you, with two bits of third party software needed.

Instead, with the release of both HanDBase and iSilo for Series 60 in summer 2005, we now have two great tools for handling our data, with appropriate access passwords and encryption.

  • HanDBase is the more powerful solution, with proper entry level encryption and a desktop that opens your master documents directly. Your data will need to be in fairly regimented, record-based form in the first place though, in order to get it imported from whatever you currently use into the HanDBase Desktop.
  • iSilo is better for more freeform data, using HTML as its source format. What this means is that I keep my main 'secrets' in a simple text-based HTML file on the desktop, encrypted of course (lots of ways of doing this). I then pass it through the iSiloX converter, specifying a password in the 'Security' tab and copy the resulting .pdb file into \Documents\Isilo on my smartphone.

iSiloX, setting the password iSilo
iSilo iSilo

So, no shortage of ideas above. And both the recommended solutions have the advantage that they're both fairly generic, in that you can use them to add lots more personal and business reference data onto your Series 60 smartphone. Both are highly recommended.

All text (C) Steve Litchfield, 2005