I was recently asked how to password protect a USB memory stick (a.k.a. thumb drive, USB key, etc.) without having to buy software. TrueCrypt is a free and open source solution for securely encrypting data on any kind of drive including USB keys. In addition, it’s available for both Windows 2000/XP/Vista and Linux so you can share the secure data between operating systems.
With TrueCrypt you can either create a file of a specific size that will appear as a separate drive on your system (virtual encrypted disk) or you can encrypt an entire partition/drive. Of course, you can’t encrypt your entire boot disk because your computer still has to be able to load the TrueCrypt software to read the boot files.
A unique feature of TrueCrypt is that you can create a hidden area inside an encrypted volume that uses a different password. This hidden partition cannot be detected even if it’s analyzed byte-by-byte because it all looks like random bits. By storing your most important data in the hidden area, no one will know it’s there even if they force you to give them the password–you give them the password to the main encrypted area, not the hidden one.
TrueCrypt supports AES, Serpent and Twofish encryption algorithms.
Continuing the Firefox tips theme from the last article, here are two more hidden preferences in Firefox that are very handy. To access them, enter about:config in the browser’s address bar and press the Enter or Return key.
browser.urlbar.hideGoButton In earlier versions of Firefox, it was possible to remove the Go button. Now, it’s part of the address bar. However, setting this preference value to true will make it go away to give you more room to see the URL in the address bar.
permissions.default.image Firefox also used to allow you to prevent it from loading images on the page that were from a different server than the page itself. If you’d like to enable this security feature, set this preference value to 3.
There are a lot of hidden preferences in Firefox that are available by entering about:config in the browser’s address bar and pressing the Enter or Return key. Here are some tweaks that I find particularly helpful.
To change a preference in the list, double-click on it. To filter the list, type any part of the preference name in the Filter box.
browser.backspace_action By default on Windows and Mac OS X, hitting the backspace key causes Firefox to go back one page in the browser’s history. Changing this setting’s value to anything greater than 1 (Firefox on Linux defaults to a value of 2) will disable this behavior to prevent accidentally changing pages while typing in a form or Flash program.
layout.spellcheckDefault The default value of 1 enables spell checking in text areas. To have Firefox show incorrect spelling in text input fields of forms as well, change this value to 2.
Changes to these settings take effect immediately. The spell check one may require that you reload a page that was open before the setting was changed for it to take effect.
I’ve been using Excel since version 1.0 so I’m pretty proficient, but there’s so much functionality that’s been added over the years that it’s pretty hard to utilize it all. For example, here are two helpful tricks that I’ve never heard of before:
Pressing Alt and the equals sign at the end or bottom of a row or column of numbers will insert a sum formula for you.
Holding down the Shift key and then clicking on the File menu will reveal a Close All item to quickly close worksheets.