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mSecure Protects iPhone Passwords, Data
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 at 4:10 PM - by John Martellaro
mSecure from mSeven Software is a full-featured iPhone/iPod touch app that that uses strong encryption to protect passwords, account numbers, prescription IDs, notes and other personal, sensitive information. It works as a stand-alone app, with no external connections and costs $2.99.
While many free apps for the iPhone have a hidden business model, mSecure generates its revenue solely from product sales. As a result, there's no need for any external connection, network backups, and so on. The only external connection made is when the iPhone is synced to the host computer and encrypted data is backed up to iTunes. That will make a lot of customers feel comfortable with the security of their data.
Current data can be displayed either alphabetically by a keyword name or sorted by categories, such as bank accounts, safe combinations, credit cards, e-mail accounts, frequent flyer numbers, or just plain text notes to name a few. If the default categories are undesirable, they can be edited or deleted. Each category has an easily recognizable, colorful icon.
On the main page, a search function (magnifying glass) allows a sequential character search: as each character is typed, the data entries are narrowed and displayed in real time. That makes it easy to find a particular item very fast.
Touching the "+" key on the upper right adds a new entry for the user selected data type. One has to be clued into the idea that touching the last used type brings up a list of all possible types. Perhaps a slightly better method of letting the user know what to do there might be helpful.
Once a data type is selected, the data fields are appropriate to that type. For example, if the data field is an e-mail account, the data fields are: (Description, username, password, POP3 host, SMTP host, and Note). If the type is a bank account, then the data fields are: (Description, PIN, Name, Branch, Phone # and Note). However, if these defaults are not satisfactory, they can be edited.
Edit Data Type
mSecure knows that when a data field is primarily text, the alpha keyboard is brought up, but if it's primarily numbers, the numerical keyboard is brought up. This makes it easier to enter data quickly and is a great UI touch.
Creating FF data
In addition, after data entry is complete, if a field contains an e-mail or URL, tapping the data beings up a mailer or Safari with the data pre-loaded. That's an obvious thing to do, but it's amazing that some developers don't consider that kind of UI touch to be a priority.
There are no limits on the amount of data that can be stored -- except for iPhone memory.
Security and Options
The app uses AES 256 bit encryption. If your iPhone is lost or stolen, chances are that data will remain secure unless, I'm guessing, the U.S. Government with its NSA supercomputers conducts an attack on the encrypted files. Otherwise, the data is most likely secure.
The login screen has a text prompt that will display the password hint. There is also a text prompt/region to switch to a numeric keypad for users who've elected to use a number as a password. Details like this are nice to see.
There are plenty of nice options that gave me the feeling that the specs of the app were well thought out ahead of time. Often, in the rush to publish, things that should have been in version 1.x get delayed as the product is pushed out the door. I didn't get that feeling here.
This reviewer used the program for several hours, entered data, edited, logged off and on, and altered a major type. After deleting the data type "clothes" and changing the type to MacObserver, deleting fields, adding fields, and saving, all went well. Finally, the data type list was automatically re-alphabetized to reflect my new data type.
The app never crashed.
One fact of life for an iPhone user is that the structure and design of apps on the iPhone are often very different than corresponding apps on the host Mac. For example, the way I store all my passwords on the Mac is very different than how mSecure does it.
To address that issue, mSeven software is developing a companion app for the Mac and Windows that allows the user to access the same data on the desktop -- with full syncing. This is a smart move, and eliminates the problem of different schemas on different platforms.
The Bottom Line
This app has a strong feeling of tightness in design and focused functionality. There are no gimmicks or hidden business models to alarm the user. All the data is kept secure, with serious encryption, on the iPhone and only leaves when encrypted data is backed up to the Mac. Moreover, the user won't have to worry about data re-entry when the companion app arrives for the Mac desktop. (A nominal charge is planned, TBD.) The app requires OS X iPhone 2.0 or later.
There are several different iPhone apps that have similar functionality, but if you want to start somewhere, you won't go wrong by starting with mSecure.
Just The Facts
Solid, focused design. No data leaves user environment. Highly configurable. Thoughtful UI features.
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