macOS

Protecting / encrypting your Agenda notes: a workaround

The popular Agenda app for macOS and iOS devices lacks a privacy protection system. Browsing through Agenda’s user forum, I found quite a large number of people who want to use the app but refrain from doing so because of the lack of protection.

With the Bear app now delivering on that promise by providing both app lockdown using your system password and individual note encryption, I started thinking of a way around the Agenda protection problem. In view of the developers’ timeline forecast — that encryption is a problem they won’t be able to solve soon — I may have found a solution. It won’t fit all people’s needs and it does involve a bit of extra work, but if you’re a fan of Agenda you might want to go through the trouble of setting up the workflow that I found as a temporary solution.

What you need

You will need a copy of Agenda, obviously, and the Premium feature that allows you to export individual notes as PDFs. Remember, Agenda’s licence model is semi-subscription based. That means that, if you subscribe for a year you’re entitled to all premium features released within that year. If you decide to not subscribe to the next year, you’ll keep the premium features of the past year but will miss out on new premium features offered in the next period.

It’s a very customer-friendly method of asking money for features that are worth paying for.

The second app you will need is a PDF editor. I have two of those on my system, PDF Expert by Readdle and PDFpenPro by SmileOnMyMac. Both are capable of setting a password, but only PDFpenPro allows you to set the encryption strength to AES-256 which is much stronger than the usual AES-128. For medium-sensitive notes, however, you can do with both apps. For high-sensitive notes, I’d go with PDFpenPro.

At around €100 PDFpenPro isn’t cheap, but in return you do get a full-blown PDF editor that allows you to do much more than just protect your information.

NOTE: I don’t get paid for recommending neither of these apps – just so you know.

Step-by-step instructions

When you have what it takes, you can start protecting your notes. Here’s a step-by-step workflow.

Step 1 — Write your Note in Agenda as usual. When done, select the note and export to PDF.

Step 2 — Delete the text in your Note that you consider sensitive.

You now have a PDF that is readable by anyone and a Note with only text that others are allowed to see. I don’t exactly know when Agenda synchronises its data with iCloud or Dropbox, but if you worry about that, then keep synchronisation turned off in the Preferences and sync only once or twice a day.

Step 3 — Open your PDF in PDFpenPro or PDF Expert. In PDFpenPro, select the File > Save As… option (hold down Option key as you select the menu). Set your encryption level; you can choose between “Strongest, Least compatible” (256-bit AES), “Strong” (128-bit AES), “Weak” (40-bit RC-4) and “None” (no encryption at all). For this guide, I chose Strongest.

Set your password and save the file. Either let the app overwrite the original or save to a different name.

If you’re using PDF Expert, then select File > Set Password… PDF Expert will slide down a password form where you can set the password for the 128-bit AES encryption.

Step 4 — You will end up with a PDF file with an icon that looks like a huge padlock.

Drag this file into Agenda, creating a copy inside the Agenda database. Now you can delete the file from the folder where you saved it while you were processing it with PDFpenPro. The secured PDF file will stay in Agenda’s database and double-clicking it will launch Apple’s Preview and show the document with a password field to open it.

If you select the secured file and select Quick Look in Agenda, you’ll be presented with a password field as well.

Conclusion

It’s not as simple or user-friendly as most of us would like it to be, but in my opinion it’s an elegant solution that doesn’t require you to change all your Notes to their protection scheme once Agenda’s developers have worked out how they are going to implement one.

I also thought of another solution, using Bear as the encrypted note taking app with links to and from Agenda, but I think the above solution has several advantages the Bear alternative hasn’t.

If you have different views or think this is utter nonsense, I’d be interested to read your comments!