USBCrypt updated to v.10.9

We’ve just released yet another update to our encryption product USBCrypt. This is a maintenance release that includes several fixes and improvements, such as:

  • In some usage scenarios, the Optimize for performance option could cause 100% of the available RAM to be consumed. We have corrected that.
  • When encrypting a drive, the size of the Virtual Encrypted Disk can now be selected using units other than MB.
  • The size of the Virtual Encrypted Disk is now displayed when choosing the Properties command from the taskbar icon right-click menu.

If you are already using a previous version of USBCrypt, you don’t need to remove it: just download and run the new version, and it should update the previous version while keeping your settings and customizations intact.

Happy encrypting!

Start programs elevated from a batch file

If you use batch files to automate tasks on a Windows 10, 8, 7 or Vista computer, you have probably encountered situations when you needed to start a program elevated (a.k.a. as administrator). For example, if you want to share a folder automatically from a batch file, you would use the net share command. However, unlike many other programs that ask for the administrator’s approval, net share does not do that and simply returns the error code 5 (“access denied”) if it was started by a standard user. How to force that program to start elevated from a batch file?

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That’s the purpose of the Elevate utility that we’ve created to solve such a problem. Download the Zip file, uncompress it, and inside you should find two files: Elevate.exe and Elevate64.exe. (The latter is a native 64-bit compilation, if you require that, although the regular 32-bit version, Elevate.exe, should work fine with both the 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows).

Copy the file Elevate.exe into a folder where Windows can always find it (such as C:/Windows). To use it in a batch file, just prepend the command you want to execute as administrator with the elevate command, like this:

  elevate net share ...

and it should run the command net share as administrator. Of course, it does not relieve the administrator from the duty to approve the request (unless you have enabled the quiet mode of UAC or disabled the UAC altogether).

The syntax of the Elevate command is as follows:

  elevate [-opt1] [-opt2...] [path\]file[.exe] [param1 [param2...]]

Where -optN can be one of the following:

  -?         - Display the help screen and exit
  -info      - Open the web page with more information (the web page you are reading now!) and exit
  -wait4idle - Wait for the target process to initialize before returning
  -wait4exit - Wait for the target process to finish before returning
  -noui      - Don't display any messages, even if an error occurs

After the options, the following arguments should be entered:

  file       - The file name of the program to launch elevated
  paramN     - Optional parameters (as expected by the program being launched)

For example, if for some reason you want to run Notepad as administrator, and continue only after you exit Notepad, you would use a command like this:
  elevate   -wait4exit   notepad

If you use the elevate command while being logged in to Windows as a user that does not have a split token, that is as a non-administrator or a guest user, it will ask for the administrator’s password to continue. If you use it as the true administrator (that is, if UAC is disabled, or it you’ve launched the batch file itself as administrator), then no administrator’s approval would be required and it would launch the program as usual.

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Can Elevate.exe be used on a Windows XP or Windows 2000 computer, even though they do not have UAC or users with the split tokens? Yes, it can! In such a case, if the batch file is executed by the administrator, then Elevate.exe runs the program as usual, without requiring any additional approval. If run by a restricted user, Elevate.exe has the same effect as the Run As command of Windows XP/2000: it gives the user an option to enter a different user’s credentials to lunch the program.

The return code of the elevate command depends on the result of its execution and whether you have specified the -wait4exit option or not. If the -wait4exit option is NOT specified, then elevate returns code 0 if it started the target process successfully, or an error code as reported by Windows. For example, if Windows could not find the target file, it usually returns code 2. If the file was found, but the administrator did not approve the request to start the program elevated, the return code is 5. And so on.

However, if you have specified the -wait4exit option on the command line, then if the target process was started successfully, the elevate command would wait for it to finish and return the exit code from that process. The returned value in such a case depends on the program being launched be the elevate command. As with other commands, you can access the return code in a batch file via the ERRORLEVEL variable.

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Download Elevate.zip

NOTE: There is a known Windows problem: you cannot start a batch file elevated while passing arguments with quotes to it. A possible workaround is not to use elevate.exe to run a batch file elevated. Instead, run the batch file itself as the standard user, and put the elevate.exe command inside of the batch file to run whatever program you need to run elevated.

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How to make elevated programs recognize network drives

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One of the useful tools that Windows offers is the ability to assign drive letters to the network locations. You can use the Map Network Drive command of Windows Explorer or AB Commander to create the network drives. After a network drive has been created, you can use it just like any other drive: browse its contents, copy file to or from it, and so on.

A problem may occur, however, if you use Windows Vista or Windows 7 and need to access the network drive from an application that runs elevated (a.k.a. as administrator). For example, when you run AB Commander as usual, it runs as the standard user, and displays any network drive that you might have created, for example:

AB Commander shows a network drive in the Computer folder
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However, unlike Windows Explorer that always runs as a standard user, AB Commander offers you an option to run it as administrator. (You can do it by using the Restart as Administrator command on the Tools menu.) If you restart AB Commander as administrator, you might be surprised to see no network drive in its window:

Why is the network drive missing?
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(You can recognize that AB Commander is running as administrator by the presence of the Administrator label in its title bar).

To understand why the network drive is not visible to the programs running as administrator, we have to consider how Windows handles the standard and administrator user access internally. In simple terms, when UAC (User Account Control) is enabled, Windows creates a split personality for your user account: one with the standard user’s access rights to do the the regular tasks, and another one with the full administrative access to the system. When you log in to the computer, Windows tries hard to create the impression that these two personalities are the same: they share the login name and password, the desktop and documents, settings and preferences, and so on. However, when it comes to mapping the network drives, Windows prefers to treat them as separate accounts (for security reasons). That’s why the network drives created when you wear the hat of the standard user do not automatically become available when you put the administrator’s hat on. This Microsoft article explains it all in detail.

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Such behavior is rather counter-productive: after all, the administrator account is supposed have more access to the system, it’s supposed to be able to see and do all things that are available to the standard user, plus some more. Why can’t it see the network drive created by the standard user?

In any case, there is a way to force Windows to make the network drives available to both the standard and administrator accounts automatically. All you need to do is run Registry Editor (regedit.exe), locate the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SOFTWARE/Microsoft/Windows/CurrentVersion/Policies/System

and create a new DWORD entry with the name EnableLinkedConnections and value 1:

The value EnableLinkedConnections in the registry
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Caution: If you are not very experienced with Registry Editor, please be extra careful: it’s a powerful tool that can do a lot of damage to your system if used carelessly.

After you’ve added the EnableLinkedConnections value to the Registry, restart the computer, and after that the network drives you create should become available to the elevated applications, as well.

Happy networking!

Update for Windows 8

It appears that the EnableLinkedConnections setting is not always working correctly on Windows 8: if a standard user has created a mapped network drive pointing to a subfolder of a shared folder (for example, drive Z: connected to //server/share/subfolder), then the elevated user will see the drive Z:, but it will be pointing to the root share, //server/share/, not to the subfolder.

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If this error creates a problem for you, then it’s better not to use the EnableLinkedConnections registry fix at all. Instead, just create the mapped network drive twice: first time using a standard user’s account, and the second time using an administrator account. Sure, it’s twice the work, but it should work correctly in all situations.

Good luck!

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How to disable hibernation with AB Commander

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If you used Space Investigator to analyze the contents of your C: drive, you probably couldn’t help but notice a rather large file named hiberfil.sys in the root folder. This file is used by Windows to remember the state of your computer when you hibernate it.

OK, but what if you never hibernate your computer? (In most cases sleep is what it does, which is not the same as hibernate). The size of this file is about the same as the size of the RAM your computer has, it would be nice to delete the file and allow other files use that space. However, if you attempt to delete the file directly (using Space Investigator, AB Commander, or Windows Explorer), you might be surprised to discover that Windows does not let you delete it, even if you use your full powers of the administrator.

To solve this problem, you need to disable hibernation: when you do that, Windows deletes the hiberfil.sys file for you. Windows XP offers a special button in its Control Panel that you can use to disable or enable hibernation. However, Windows Vista and Windows 7 for some reason don’t offer a similar command. Fortunately, there is a way to disable or enable hibernation: by running the powercfg.exe command with the administrative privileges and the appropriate command line switches, as described in this Microsoft article.

If you have AB Commander, you might be surprised to know that it can be used to achieve the same result especially easy. To do this, you need to know three things:

  1. AB Commander lets you launch any command by entering it into its command bar (at the bottom of AB Commander window).
  2. You can start a command elevated (a.k.a “As Administrator”) by pressing the Ctrl+Shift+Enter keys.
  3. You have to know the correct command (and any parameters, if applicable) to run to perform the specific task you want.

For turning the hibernation on and off, the above mentioned Microsoft article gives us all information we need:

To disable hibernation, run this command:

powercfg.exe /hibernate off

To enable hibernation back, run this command:

powercfg.exe /hibernate on

Remember to launch these commands “As Administrator”, or they won’t work:

Press Ctrl+Shift+Enter to run a command As Administrator with AB Commander
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Happy computing!

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Using names and labels to organize USBCrypt drives

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If you use USBCrypt to protect just one or two drives, it’s easy to keep track of them. However, when the number of the encrypted drives grows, it becomes more difficult to keep them organized. The fact that each physical drive can be represented by two drive letters (one for the host drive and another one for the Virtual Encrypted Disk it contains) does not make it any easier. To help you manage the encrypted drives, USBCrypt offers you the options of assigning names to them. There are several names used by USBCrypt and Windows in different places of their user interfaces. Let us discuss them in detail.

When you encrypt a drive for the first time, USBCrypt asks you to choose two names: the Virtual Encrypted Disk name and the Host Disk name:

Choosing the encrypted drive name

The first name (for the Virtual Encrypted Disk) is used when displaying the windows and menus of USBCrypt. For example, it is shown on the USBCrypt window when starting the encrypted disk:

Starting a Virtual Encrypted Disk

This name is also displayed on the USBCrypt “balloon” notifications:

An Encrypted Disk has been attached

Or, when you right-click on a USBCrypt taskbar icon, you can see the name of Virtual Encrypted Disk on the menu:

The Virtual Encrypted Disk menu

As you can see, by using different names with different Virtual Encrypted Disk, you can make it easier to recognize them in Windows.

What about the second name you are asked to enter when encrypting a drive, the Host Disk name? This name is displayed by Windows as a label next to the host disk:

The Host Disk label

You can change the default name “USBCrypt Host Disk” to something more descriptive. Keep in mind, however, than both the Host Disk and Virtual Encrypted Disk names are NOT encrypted: they can be seen even before you enter the password to start the encrypted drive.

What if later on you’ve decided that other names would describe your encrypted drive better? You can change both the Virtual Encrypted Disk and Host Disk names by clicking on the Tools button on the Start Virtual Encrypted Disk window:

Changing the Virtual Encrypted Disk and Host Disk names

If you change the Virtual Encrypted Disk name, it takes effect immediately. However, if you change the Host Disk name, you may need to restart the computer before Windows would recognize the new name.

Besides the Virtual Encrypted Disk and Host Disk names, there is a third name that Windows uses to refer to the Virtual Encrypted Disks you create: it’s the labels it shows next to the Virtual Encrypted Disks in the Explorer windows:

Virtual Encrypted Disk label

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The default text for the label is “Virtual Encrypted Disk” if you have chosen the NTFS file system for it, or just “ENCRYPTED” if you have formatted it with the FAT file system (because FAT limits the number and kind of characters that can be used in a drive label). USBCrypt itself does not provide a command to change such a label, because Windows itself offers it: you can change the label of an encrypted drive in the same way as of any other drive: by right-clicking on the drive and choosing Properties from the menu:

Changing the Virtual Encrypted Disk label

Enter the desired name there, and the label will change. Unlike the Virtual Encrypted Disk and the Host Disk names we’ve discussed above, the Virtual Encrypted Disk label is encrypted, along with all other data the encrypted disk contains: this label is only displayed by Windows after you’ve entered the correct password to start the encrypted disk.

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USBCrypt 10.8 is out!

We are excited to announce that a new version 10.8 of our encryption software USBCrypt has been just released and is available now!

This version includes many improvements and fixes, such as:

  • An option to select the preferred optimization of the Virtual Encrypted Disks: you can now choose whether to optimize for performance or for quick removal of the encrypted disks.
  • An option to launch the "autorun" process "As Admininstrator" when starting or stopping the encrypted disks.
  • You can now create custom names for the host disks (other than the default USBCrypt Host disk), to make it easier to recognize different disks in the Explorer windows.
  • While the encryption process of a drive is in progress, you can now minimize the USBCrypt window to the taskbar. You may find it handly when encrypting large drives.
  • Also, you can now pause and resume the encryption process, if you need to temporarily allow other programs to use the full CPU power fo your computer.
  • The built-in backup software that comes with Windows 7 or Windows Vista can now recognize the Virtual Encrypted Disks as valid backup destinations for the documents and settings.
  • USBCrypt now warns you if you log off or shut down the computer while a disk is being encrypted.
  • And more! Please give the new USBCrypt a try.

A major update to ActiveExit released

A new version 10.8 of ActiveExit is available now!

This is a complete rewrite of this software. If you’ve used an older version of ActiveExit, and are considering an upgrade, you may want to review the new User’s Guide to see what ActiveExit is now. You will notice many differences: we’ve simplified the user interface and removed many secondary functions, such as the allowed use schedule, the password protection, the taskbar icon, and so on. If you were relying on ActiveExit for such functions, hold on to the previous version that you already have.

The good news is that ActiveExit now works much better performing the main function it was designed for: to automatically log off users after a period of their inactivity. Here are some of the improvements in the new version:

  • ActiveExit now works with Windows 7 and Vista
  • ActiveExit now supports Windows Servers 2008 and 2003 (including the R2 versions)
  • ActiveExit can now log off automatically even the Remote Desktop users
  • ActiveExit now supports Active Directory and Group Policy
  • ActiveExit now supports unattended installations and updates
  • ActiveExit is now FREE for personal use!

Give the new ActiveExit a try!

A minor fix for AB Commander released

We goofed! In the previous version 7.5.6, we’ve added a few additional checks of the license key validity and it turned out one of them was one too many: it caused a message asking the user to enter a valid license key to appear in some circumstances, even though the correct license key was already entered.

To correct this error, we’ve released an updated version 7.5.7 today. (It has no other improvements over 7.5.6, so if you don’t see that message, feel free to skip this update). If you do want to upgrade, you can install the new version without removing the previous one, and it should upgrade the files and retain your settings.

How to password-protect a USB flash drive

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Password-protecting a flash drive is easy with the USBCrypt wizard software. When you run it, it guides you through the steps of encrypting a removable USB flash drive. It asks you to choose a name for the encrypted drive (this is optional, but can be handy if you have several similar drives that you use to store different kinds of files):

Choose a name for the encrypted USB drive

After a few more steps, which you may want to leave the settings as they are (the defaults should be suitable for most common situations), or you can adjust the options offered by the USBCrypt wizard. For example, you can choose to encrypt the whole drive or only a part of it. You can also select the encrypted file system (FAT or NTFS) to use for the encrypted data. Another option is to choose the encryption strength (such as the 128-bit or 256-bit AES encryption in the XTS mode). Yet another option lets you choose whether to create a “spare key” file on your computer, that you could use should you forget you main encryption password:

Choose a strong password for the encrypted USB drive

After the flash drive has been encrypted, you can start it (by entering its password) and it will become accessible via its own drive letter, just as any other drive. To encrypt a file, just move it to the encrypted drive (by, for example, dragging and dropping it using Windows Explorer or with our file manager AB Commander), and the file will be encrypted on-the -fly. To open the encrypted file, you don’t have to do anything special: you can double-click the file on the encrypted drive, as usual, and it will be decrypted transparently for you. When you save the changes, they will be encrypted automatically for you, too. In short, there is no difference between using the encrypted drive and a regular drive!

When you are done using the encrypted files, you need to lock it back. TO do that, you can use the USBCrypt icon in Windows taskbar to stop the encrypted drive:

Lock the encrypted USB drive with password

After the encrypted drive has been stopped, all files and folders it contains become locked with your password again. At this point, you can detach the flash drive from the computer. You can sleep well at night, knowing that your files are safe and sound too.

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Useful Windows utilities and security software