Password protection demystified – How it works in note-taking apps?

At the core of password protection is encryption. Encryption is the process of encoding information accessed and read by authorized parties. Without the encryption key, the data appears scrambled and meaningless.  There are two main types of encryption used in password protection – symmetric and asymmetric. Symmetric encryption uses a single secret key to both encrypt and decrypt the data. Asymmetric encryption, public key cryptography, uses a pair of keys – a public key for encrypting and a private key for decrypting. Most modern note-taking apps use a combination of symmetric and asymmetric encryption. Asymmetric encryption is a secure connection and allows for secure key exchange. The symmetric encryption key is then used for the fast encryption and decryption of the actual note data.

Different apps, different approaches

The major apps default to end-to-end encryption, only the user has access to the encryption keys used to protect their notes.  However, some apps access user data if needed for support purposes, recovery scenarios, etc. In those cases, users need to understand what level of privacy is being provided. Examples of a safenote? Apps may state they use encryption, but their internal policies and access controls determine if it is true end-to-end encryption protecting against insider threats. Compare that to apps like Standard Notes and Zoho Notebook that tout complete end-to-end encryption and a “zero knowledge” privacy approach where no one but the user ever has access to their encrypted data.

Another key difference is where the encryption keys get generated and stored. Apps that use client-side encryption generate the keys on the user’s local device. It is more secure than server-side encryption where keys originate in the cloud. If encryption keys are ever transmitted or stored by the service provider, there are more potential attack vectors for interception or exposure. Digging into the technical details of how different note-taking apps approach password protection and encryption is important for users with serious privacy needs or dealing with very sensitive information. But even for general personal use, end-to-end encryption provides peace of mind that no one aside from you to access your notes, even in a worst-case scenario of the service being compromised.

A password-protected note-taking app

So with all these nuances in how password protection gets implemented, what should you look for in a secure note-taking app?

  1. End-to-end encryption – Ensure your encryption keys are generated and stored locally so the provider decrypts your notes
  2. At least 256-bit encryption – The longer the key length, the harder it is for encrypted data to be cracked
  3. Support for two-factor authentication – This extra verification adds critical security against password theft
  4. Published encryption protocols – Established, openly documented encryption algorithms put the technique used under scrutiny
  5. Simple password reset process with master password change option – You’ll eventually need to update your password for optimal security
  6. Cross-platform availability – So your encrypted notes remain accessible across all your devices
  7. Secure cloud sync and backup – To take advantage of encryption at rest and prevent accidental data loss

By choosing note-taking apps that check these boxes, you be confident your sensitive notes are truly protected behind a secure wall that only you access with the right encryption keys.

Douglas J. Moses

Douglas J. Moses